Supreme Court to Review Impact of Eliminating Black and Hispanic Jurors in Capital Case
On October 20, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Chappell v. Ayala (No. 13-1428), a death penalty case from California in which all the black and Hispanic potential jurors were struck from the defendant's trial. Hector Ayala was convicted in 1989 of three murders in San Diego. At his trial, Ayala's attorneys argued that the prosecutor was improperly striking jurors on the basis of race. The judge reviewed the prosecutor's explanation for the strikes without defense attorneys present, saying it was necessary to protect the prosecutor's trial strategy, and concluded the strikes were not racially motivated. The California Supreme Court found that any potential constitutional error related to the racial makeup of the jury or the subsequent closed review was harmless, rejecting Ayala's appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Ayala relief and ordered California to retry him. The 9th Circuit held that the constitutional issues could be reviewed without deference to the state court opinion because no ruling based on federal law had been made against Ayala, and that the errors made at trial had an injurious effect on the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court will consider whether more deference was due the state court's decision and whether the 9th Circuit used the correct standard in determining that the trial errors were harmful.
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NEW VOICES: Former Texas Governor Calls for Hearing for Edgar Tamayo
In an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman, former Texas Governor Mark White called for a new hearing for Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican national scheduled for execution on January 22. Foreign nationals charged with crimes in the U.S. are entitled to assistance from their consulate under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but Tamayo was denied that right. White joins U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Mexican Foreign Minister in calling for hearings to determine whether assistance from the Mexican government would have affected Tamayo's case. White highlighted the importance of upholding the Vienna Convention, saying, "If American states, including Texas, fail to honor Vienna Convention rights for citizens of other countries, then how can we expect those other countries to protect our own rights?" He concluded, "I hope that Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott will do the right thing and protect Texas’ integrity at the same time, by allowing a court to hear Tamayo’s claims of prejudice." Read the op-ed below.
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Upcoming Death Penalty Events in 2014
As the new year begins, there are several notable events related to the death penalty likely to occur in the next few months. The first execution of the year is scheduled for January 7 in Florida. The execution of Askari Muhammad had originally been scheduled for December 3, 2013, but was stayed due to a challenge to the state's new execution protocol. The Florida Supreme Court approved the new protocol, and the execution was rescheduled, though legal challenges are continuing in federal court. Ohio has scheduled the execution of Dennis McGuire for January 16, and the state plans to use a lethal injection protocol never tried before in any state. Ohio will use midazolam and hydromorphone, drugs formerly listed in the state's backup procedure. This latest change in Ohio was caused by a shortage of the drug pentobarbital, after restrictions on its use were imposed by its European manufacturer. On January 22, Texas is scheduled to execute Edgar Tamayo, a Mexican citizen who was denied consular access at the time of his arrest, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Objections to the execution have been raised by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and by numerous other governments. On March 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hall v. Florida, a challenge to Florida's strict procedure for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. The Court previously ruled that intellectually disabled defendants are barred from execution.
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