A reader forwarded me a really interesting petition filed in the Supreme Court that is set for the Supreme Court's Sept. 27 "long conference."
Before I talk about the petition, let me just say that I welcome people forwarding me interesting stuff, such as habeas petitions, cert. petitions, articles, etc. I can't guarantee that I will write about everything that people forward to me. And I still have a lot of stuff that I have been given that I haven't quite made it all the way through. But one of my goals is to provide a heads up on interesting things going on in habeasland and it is helpful when people make me aware of those interesting things. Of course, make sure that it is habeas related. In particular, 2254-type habeas.
Back to the interesting petition . . .
The name of the case is In re Joseph Ciambrone.
It's not a cert. petition, but an original petition, raising what I think is best described as a newly discovered evidence/actual innocence claim. To me, it feels in the nature of a Troy Davis-type claim where petitioner is arguing that no court has ever held a hearing on evidence that shows that petitioner is innocent.
According to the allegations in the petition, what happened to petitioner is hard to believe.
The case concerned the physical abuse of petitioner's child resulting in the child's death. Both of the parents were charged with killing the child.
For some reason, the father's trial happened ten years before the mother's trial. At the father's trial, the State presented the theory that the father played a significant role in the child's death. The State argued that he was present when the child died and that his proverbial fingerprints can be found all over the child's death. Overall, the State argued that the child died as a result of a long period of aggravated child abuse. And the actual cause of death was one part beating, one part malnutrition, one part hypothermia, one part rib fractures. Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, the State presented a completely different reality at the mother's trial ten years later. And that reality exonerates the petitioner in the child's death. At that trial, the medical examiner said that the cause of death was exclusively trauma to the head. And they now claim that only the mother hit the child in the head. The father had nothing to do with that beating. In fact, it seems as if the father was away at work when this happened. How do we know? Because witnesses at the mother's trial said so and actually heard the mother crying, burying her face in her husband's chest, and saying that she was sorry.
To me, this change in theory/reality is just unbelievable. I know technically how a change in theory like this can happen, but how can this really happen?
It's a timely example of a case that rates high on the brand new "uncommon sense meter."* In other words, the fact that something crazy like this can happen and petitioner can't get any court to listen to it defies common sense.
*I know, it's been less than a day, and I am already changing the name. But I think this new name does a better job of reflecting the point I am trying to make. It makes sense for a high score on an "uncommon sense meter" to denote something that does not make much sense, considering what's common. Right?
One other thing to mention about the petition is that it is not quite like Troy Davis since that was a death penalty case while this is "only" life imprisonment. The reader who sent me the petition lamented (and I am paraphrasing) that courts probably would have taken this more seriously had he been sentenced to death. There is something to that, and I have read elsewhere (I am pretty sure I have seen this on Sentencing Law and Policy -- this is just a link to the site, not a post about the argument) that the Supreme Court, in particular, grants cert. in a disproportionately high number of death penalty cases as opposed to regular old criminal law and habeas cases, which can work to limit the development of these broader areas of law.