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No New SCOTUS Criminal Cases

The Supreme Court today accepted four new cases for the next term, all civil. The orders list is here. Summaries and links to the cert. stage documents are at SCOTUSblog.

Among the cases denied today were two Texas capital cases, Peter Cantu and Delma Banks.

The Banks case was the subject of a prior Supreme Court opinion, Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668 (2004). On remand, the Fifth Circuit decided, case 08-70019, that the evidence not disclosed was not material. Contrary to a common misconception, a finding that the evidence in a Brady claim is not material is not a finding of "harmless error"; it is a finding that no constitutional violation occurred. There is no obligation under Brady to disclose immaterial evidence.

Peter Cantu is the gang leader in the notorious case that gave rise to Medellin v. Texas (opinion here, CJLF brief here). Cantu's case has taken much longer than it should have because the state trial judge sat on it for years on state habeas. Despite its reputation, Texas really does not have a mechanism for expediting its state collateral review.

Long overdue justice in the Cantu case will probably come this year. That will be the end of the case. The others of this murderous gang who were over 18 at the time of the crime have been executed, and the sentences of those who were below that age have been commuted under Roper v. Simmons.


And what about Skinner? What significance, if any, is the fact that he was not mentioned in today's orders?

The Skinner case, 09-9000, has been relisted already for next Friday's conference. That's a pretty quick relist. I wouldn't read too much into it.

shawn, Kent would know better than I, but I'd guess that they may want to see the record. Significant evidence points to Skinner's guilt (e.g., a blood trail). I would assume that they would want to know that before granting cert.

Charles Hood's cert. petition was also denied today.

Federalist: They have reviewed this case many times in the past, including the recent past.

DNA testing of the blood stains on his clothes matches two of the victims. The blood spatter analysis contradicts his and the defenses claim that he was passed out on the couch when Twila was being beaten to death and instead supports the prosecution's theory that he was the one bludgeoning Twila. No amount of further DNA testing of other items gathered at the crime scene will make that evidence disappear.

I thought the issue the USSC is addressing is whether a defendant can gain access to evidence for DNA testing through section 1983. Even if the answer is yes, I don't see why a defendant should have access to it if it can't change the outcome of a trial. And I don't see why it would have to be remanded to the lower courts just so they could make such a finding.

shawn, I'm just surmising, but I would think that SCOTUS probably doesn't want to grant cert. in a case where the defense is just throwing something at the wall. I agree that the evidence is very strong against Skinner. The Supreme Court may just want the chance to look at the record before making the cert. decision.

Here's Linda Greenhouse's take on the Banks case:


It ends with a whimper.

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