Although the General Assembly has finally wrapped up for the year, there’s still been a fair bit of news lately that may be of interest to readers of this blog.
1. First and foremost, the United States Supreme Court recently took the virtually unprecedented step of ordering a hearing on an “original” habeas petition — one filed directly with the Supreme Court, rather than in a lower court — in a Georgia capital case. Defendant Troy Davis has exhausted the usual avenues of review, but apparently has a plausible claim that he is innocent. The Court’s order is here, Justice Scalia’s dissent is here, this Time magazine article gives you the basics in a readable way, and some blog commentary is here and here. Although some prosecution-leaning folks worry, and some defense-leaning folks hope, that this signals the opening of a whole new avenue of review for capital defendants, I doubt that the Court will make a habit of ordering hearings in original habeas proceedings. Rather, the main legal significance of the case is that it may result in a ruling on whether a claim of actual innocence, unconnected to any procedural defect in a defendant’s trial, is cognizable in federal court — a surprisingly controversial issue.
2. The News and Observer published this piece about the effect of the sex offender laws on offenders’ ability to attend church. Although the article contains some legal inaccuracies, it also raises some important questions, and is worth a read.
3. In Texas, attorneys who represented a death row inmate (who has since been executed) filed a judicial standards complaint against Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The attorneys contend that Judge Keller refused to keep the clerk’s office open after its usual 5 p.m. closing time to receive a last-minute filing challenging Texas’s method of execution. As far as I can tell from this AP story, Judge Keller’s response is that the lawyers could have filed whatever they wanted to file with the “duty judge” at any time, so there was no need for the clerk’s office to remain open. Part of what makes the case interesting is that it raises the question of whether and to what extent normal procedural rules should be suspended in death penalty cases.
4. Former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress pled guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon after shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub. He received a two-year sentence, of which he’ll likely serve about 20 months. According to the AP, football fans and others are atwitter comparing his sentence to the sentences received by fellow NFLers Michael Vick (who served about 18 months in connection with federal dogfighting charges) and Donte’ Stallworth (who received probation after killing a Florida pedestrian while driving drunk).
5. Finally, a Columbus, Ohio homeless man was briefly set on fire as a result of being Tased/Tasered/hit with a Taser. He’s OK, but according to this article, he’d been huffing, and the electric current carried by Tasers can cause flammable chemicals to ignite. Be careful out there!