While I usually put up a relist post that reviews the SCOTUSblog post on the matter, I decided to be slightly more proactive this week. But it's left me a little confused.
For the last conference on October 14, there were five relisted habeas cases: Cavazos, Maxwell, Dixon, Cross, and Buck. The Court took no action on any of them, except for ordering the record in Maxwell. But none of them were relisted for another conference. That can still happen and I am guessing it probably will for all five. The next conference is not until next Friday. But as it stands they are all just in a holding pattern.
In the meantime, I read this really interesting article about the Maxwell case called "The Case You Go to Law School For." That's a reference to a quote from Maxwell's attorney Verna Wefald. Actually, in the full quote, the lawyer was trying to be funny, not simply poignant. She said that, when she first started working on the case back in the late '80's, "I was young and thought this was the kind of case you went to law school for. About 10 years into it, I wished I had never gone."
Maxwell is a relatively well-known petitioner. He was convicted of committing the "Skid Row" murders that occurred in Los Angeles in the 70's. However, as the article states, the problem is that "in all likelihood, he’s innocent." The main evidence against him was a jailhouse confession, which is a notoriously unreliable type of evidence. The other evidence presented was really weak - a palm print on a public bench and some muddy footprints. Maxwell was acquitted of several of the murders and only eventually convicted of three of the ten of which he was charged. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Turns out that the prosecution failed to turn over that the jailhouse informant was given a deal for his testimony against Maxwell. Pretty big deal, no? Well, Maxwell had trouble obtaining relief on this significant Brady violation until he reached the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit granted habeas, holding that (1) state court’s finding that jailhouse informant testified truthfully at petitioner’s trial was unreasonable determination of facts in light of evidence presented; (2) perjury by informant deprived petitioner of his right to trial by jury; (3) details of informant’s deal were material for Brady purposes; (4) information regarding informant’s prior informant activities were material for Brady purposes; and (5) state court’s determination that prosecution’s failure to disclose impeachment evidence did not undermine confidence in petitioner’s trial was unreasonable application of Brady.
Without seeing it, I am guessing that the state court decision here would rank pretty high on the "uncommon sense" meter.
And this obvious Brady violation does not just appear in a vacuum. As alluded to above, there are significant reasons to believe that petitioner is innocent. To some academics, innocence is all that should matter. So this really should be viewed as a case where the federal courts were getting it right.
But, of course, innocence is not what's important to the Court. It's the AEDPA. Here are the issues before the Court (from the SCOTUSblog page for Maxwell):
(1) Whether, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court may grant habeas relief on a claim that the state-court conviction rested on perjured testimony absent proof that the prosecution knew that the challenged testimony was false and when the state post-conviction court deemed the testimony truthful; (2) whether, under 28 U.S.C. Â§ 2254, a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief on a claim alleging suppression of exculpatory evidence when that evidence was unknown to law enforcement officials working on the case and without considering whether the state court might have rejected this claim.
Now that the Court has ordered the lower court record, we are looking at one of two probable outcomes: either a summary reversal or a dissent from a cert. denial. Let's hope it's the latter.
It's always interesting for me to get a look behind the papers once awhile and learn more about some of these cases. I felt the same way when Skinner was before the Court last term. And Connick v. Thompson. I know it can't be done for every case. But I appreciate it when I do get the chance to get a bigger picture.
UPDATE: Actually, I neglected to mention Maples as one of those cases where we have learned more about the background of the case. Of course, that was the case that inspired the "uncommon sense" meter, so I am disappointed in myself for leaving it out.