The Supreme Court just said in Shinn v. Ramirez that proving innocence is not enough

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Last December, the Supreme Court convened to hear oral arguments Shinn vs. Ramireza case that could mean life or death for Barry Jones, who is on death row in Arizona for the rape and murder of his girlfriend Rachel’s 4-year-old daughter.

In 2018, a federal court overturned Jones’ conviction, finding he had failed to obtain effective counsel, in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. If that had happened, a federal judge said, “there is a reasonable likelihood that his jury would not have found him guilty of any of the crimes with which he was charged and previously convicted.”

After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was defeated, the Arizona Attorney General appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. During these hearings, prosecutors repeatedly argued that “innocence is not enough” to overturn Jones’ conviction.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court agreed by a vote of 6 to 3: Barry Jones’ innocence is insufficient to remove him from death row. The state of Arizona can still kill Jones even though there is excessive evidence that he did not commit a crime.

The crime of which Jones was convicted is appalling. The baby girl, Rachel, died of peritonitis, the result of a rupture in her small intestine which the State of Arizona said was the result of repeated physical and sexual abuse.

But Jones’ attorneys have never questioned the physical evidence leading to his conviction. As Liliana Segura, investigative reporter for The Intercept, pointed out in a lengthy article last year:

“If Jones’ lawyers had been up to the task, they could have done a lot to defend their client. They could have pointed out that the lead detective examining Rachel at the hospital didn’t bother to investigate how and when the child suffered her fatal injury – or consider a single suspect other than Jones. They could have called a medical expert to prove that there was no real evidence that the child had been raped. More importantly, Jones’ attorneys were able to call a pathologist to challenge the state’s crime theory, which was based on a tight time frame in which Jones allegedly assaulted Rachel the day before she died. Medical professionals now say Rachel’s abdominal injury could not have turned fatal so quickly.

At the time of his trial, Jones was appointed by the state to practice law – a fundamental constitutional right guaranteed to all defendants under the Sixth Amendment. If, after conviction, a defendant argues that he has not received adequate counsel, a new counsel will be appointed for him. If the new attorney also offers ineffective counsel, a federal restraining order allows him to argue that his attorney was ineffective post-conviction.

In fact, Jones argued that he received ineffective advice not once, but twice. And the fault lies not with him, but with his attorneys appointed by the State of Arizona. By allowing him to present evidence of his innocence, a federal court would effectively correct errors made not only by his attorneys but also by the state responsible for appointing them.

In a 2012 case Martinez vs. Ryanthe Supreme Court has ruled that a convicted defendant “is not at fault for failing to pursue a claim to invalidate a proceeding in state court” – opening the door to appeals like Jones’s.

On Monday, the court rebutted the precedent set by Martinez.

In its decision, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, the Court ruled that a federal court “cannot hold an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the records of the state court on the basis of the assistance ineffectiveness of a state attorney after conviction”. In short, a convicted defendant like Jones can be held accountable and imprisoned if his prosecutor failed to provide effective counsel in his appeal.

This creates a truly bizarre, even Orwellian situation.

How can a defendant plead the ineffectiveness of an attorney if he cannot provide specific examples of that ineffective attorney? And how could they do that other than to present new evidence that was not presented in court and that would probably have acquitted them? Thomas says the bottom line is that a plaintiff must rely on the records of a trial in which he was ineffectively defended — and his actual innocence is of secondary importance.

Thomas justifies the court’s decision by saying that a federal review would impose “significant costs” on state criminal justice systems, including possible circumvention of the state’s “sovereign power to enforce ‘social standards’ by the through criminal law”.

It could be argued that placing a man on Arizona’s death row who has not committed an actual crime comes at “a significant cost.” One could even argue that executing an innocent man has far greater societal costs – not just to the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, but even more so to the man whose life the state ended.

As Judge Sonia Sotomayor noted in her dissent, “The Court’s decision will leave many people convicted of violating the Sixth Amendment facing imprisonment or even execution with no real chance to defend their right to a lawyer”. She called the verdict “perverse” and “illogical,” which does not do justice to its utter lewdness.

SCOTUS’ ruling will allow an innocent man to potentially be killed by the state for largely procedural reasons. That Arizona even appealed the federal court decision in this case is truly depraved. The state could have requested a new trial or released Jones. Instead, prosecutors took their appeal to the Supreme Court, where, if they won, they risked putting a man to death if there was significant doubt about his guilt.

What societal objective serves such a result? Why would a prosecutor risk killing an innocent person? How does this benefit the cause of justice?

But what’s even worse is that the Supreme Court is set to uphold Arizona’s compromised verdict.

As UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff told me, part of the problem is that “the conservative majority on the court does not fully accept the idea that there is a right to effective counsel.” .

“One could argue that there is a price to pay for the lack of finality in new habeas petitions. Any prisoner can simply reapply saying, “I have been denied effective help.” said Zasloff. “So, as a society, is this the price we want to pay to ensure that innocent people are not killed? Not for these guys. So much for the right to life.

The same tribunal that seems about to overthrow Deer versus calf Protecting innocent people before they are born seems to lose interest when it comes to innocent people later in life.

But to careful court watchers, the decision is hardly surprising. Thirty years ago, the Court ruled that a death row inmate who belatedly presents evidence of his innocence does not necessarily have the right to have his claims heard in federal court. Justice Antonin Scalia went even further, noting that “there is no basis, tradition, or even current practice, for asserting that there is a constitutional right to require judicial review of the evidence of newly discovered innocence following a conviction”. In a furious dissent, Judge Harry Blackmun described the majority’s reasoning as “dangerously close to outright murder”.

With their decision on Monday, the conservative members of the tribunal confirmed Scalia’s corrupt way of thinking. Simple logic would suggest that one only needs to prove one’s innocence to ensure that a wrongful conviction is overturned and an innocent man or woman is set free. Moments like these are the emotional high points of countless Hollywood films. This is how most Americans imagine our legal system.

But with the current Supreme Court and its growing refusal to abide by long-standing legal precedents, basic social norms, and simple moral constructs, the reality is very different. For the nation’s highest court, the killing of an innocent man in the state of Arizona is not a perversion of the criminal justice system, but rather a symbol of how well it works. The Supreme Court just said in Shinn v. Ramirez that proving innocence is not enough

This article is automatically translated from the original language to your language. Do not hesitate to let us know if it contains translation errors so that we can correct them as soon as possible.