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Commutation in the Shaken Baby Case

Last October, in its first decision of the term, the US Supreme Court reversed a decision granting a writ of habeas corpus to Shirley Ree Smith, who had been convicted of the murder her infant grandson.  It was the exemplar of a hard case that threatened to make bad law.  Subsequent developments in the science of shaken baby syndrome cast doubt on the coroner's conclusion regarding cause of death.

Yet the Ninth Circuit's application of Jackson v. Virginia to overturn the conviction was "plainly wrong."  The jury resolved the conflicting evidence in favor of guilt, unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, and the state courts properly deferred to the factfinder's decision.

To see the "bad law" potential of this case, see another case reversed by the Supreme Court a few years ago, also from the Ninth Circuit, also based on Jackson v. Virginia.  Troy Brown was guilty as sin of a horrible rape of a little girl.  The case was not capital murder only because she survived, no thanks to Brown.  The Ninth completely botched it.  The unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court is here.  CJLF brief is here.

The criminal justice system does have a safety valve for unusual cases where a properly conducted trial may have reached an unjust result.  That "safety valve" power is vested in the executive branch, not the judiciary.  It is executive clemency.

On Friday, Gov. Brown commuted Ms. Smith's sentence.  David Siders has this post at the SacBee.  Curiously, I couldn't find the commutation statement on the Gov's websiteUpdate:  Still not on the Gov's site, but I found it here.

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