Sixth Amendment

  • January 12, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Lawrence J. Fox, George W. and Sadella D. Crawford Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School

    “I’ve just told you he’s guilty.”

    Still ringing through the courtroom as the last day of Robert McCoy’s trial for murder came to a close, were the stinging words, “I’ve just told you he’s guilty.” If those words had been uttered by the prosecutor, the world would have taken little note. But they were the words of Mr. McCoy’s lawyer made over his client’s express objection and protestation of innocence. They represented the ultimate act of client betrayal made by the constitutionally guaranteed defender of Mr. McCoy’s rights, his one true champion, the only participant in the criminal justice system who was constitutionally required to fulfill Mr. McCoy’s wishes so long as the client was competent and they involved no illegal conduct. On January 17, these words will be at the center of discussion at the U.S. Supreme Court, when it hears this extraordinary case, McCoy v. Louisiana.

  • January 13, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death sentencing system as unconstitutional. In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled that a system which places a judge rather than a jury as the final arbiter violates the Sixth Amendment, writes Nina Totenberg at NPR.   

    At The Atlantic, Teresa Ghilarducci says Social Security is underfunded because policymakers did not predict “how rich today’s rich would be,”  explaining that the method for funding Social Security was calibrated to an America with less income inequality.

    Elsewhere in The Atlantic, Garrett Epps notes that one of the most important cases of the term – Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association – “will be decided on the basis of no facts at all,” and he criticizes members of the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc for routinely making decisions without considering the practical implications of their votes.

    In an effort to counter the nation’s elder care crisis, Hawaii may soon become the first state in the union to offer universal long-term healthcare for seniors, reports Rachel M. Cohen at The American Prospect

  • December 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. His first book, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, was published by Harvard University Press in 2009, and his most recent book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations, was published in 2014.

    Can lawyers stop their own client from challenging his death sentence? Apparently, in Texas, they can. A lawyer’s most fundamental professional obligation is to “zealously” advocate for the client and uphold “justice.” Lawyers cannot give up working on a case, or put their own interests above their client’s. And yet that is what two Texas lawyers appear to have done to death row clients they were appointed to represent.

    Raphael Holiday was just executed in Texas. His two court-appointed lawyers told him that they would no longer contest his execution. “This marks the end of work for your appeals,” they said. They then told Holiday they would not seek clemency from the governor, despite a federal law requiring them to honor the client’s desire to do just that. Facing imminent execution, Holiday told the court, “They have refused to help me and it is a disheartening conundrum I am not fit to comprehend.”

    Holiday, who lacked money to hire his own lawyer, asked for the court to appoint a new one. The lawyers who said they were “not going to file further appeals” for him opposed his request, essentially telling the court that their client had nothing but frivolous claims left. The court-appointed lawyers simply gave up on Holiday’s case, even though half of 2015 Texas executions have been stayed or withdrawn, often because lawyers discovered compelling issues as the execution date approached. Based on the appointed lawyers’ representations, the court refused to assign a new lawyer to the case. Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, commented that it was “unconscionable” to prevent Holiday from getting new lawyers and that death penalty lawyers representing clients facing imminent executions “have a duty to make every legal argument they can.”

  • October 28, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Zach Carter of the Huffington Post reports on Chuck Schumer’s remark that a loss for the Democrats in the upcoming midterms would result in a Supreme Court unfriendly to the Democrats for decades.  

    At Hamilton & Griffin on Rights, Marci A. Hamilton and Leslie C. Griffin list their top ten objections to the new Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed regulations that interpret Hobby Lobby.

    In the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Jessica Eaglin discusses a recent victory for defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

    Brianne Gorod writes for Balkinization on why the Supreme Court should not hear the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

    In Salon, Steven Rosenfeld writes about the fight for marriage equality in Kansas and the uphill battle the LGBT movement faces in the state.

  • November 25, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, Associate Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia and author of Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action
     
    In our criminal justice system, we ask jurors to make incredibly difficult decisions about life and death, guilt and innocence, all without much training, preparation or support. One day you are a mother, father, employee, ordinary citizen; the next, you are deciding whether someone should be executed by order of the State.
     
    This is the American system. Citizens become jurors and are suddenly entrusted with the most important decisions a society is required to make. Jurors are elevated to a constitutional role and given more power than ever before, all in the name of keeping the democratic legitimacy of citizen representation in our criminal justice system.
     
    Just not in Alabama when it comes to the death penalty.
     
    For the ninety-fifth time, a duly constituted local Alabama jury spared the life of a defendant facing the death penalty. In Woodward v. Alabama, the jurors voted 8-4 to sentence Mario Dion Woodward to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A single judge overrode the decision and sentenced Mr. Woodward to death. 
     
    In her dissent from a denial of certiorari, Justice Sonya Sotomayor raised significant Sixth and Eighth Amendment concerns about the practice of allowing judges (facing the political pressure of reelection) to impose the death penalty because those judges disagree with the jury’s assessments of the facts. Such reasoning runs directly against the logic of Ring v. Arizona and may violate the constitutional rights of the accused.
     
    However the Supreme Court ultimately decides the constitutional issue, I see a broader problem focusing not on the accused but on the citizen. Simply stated, a judicial override process devalues civic participation and threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the jury system. By disrespecting the jury verdict, the judge is disrespecting the juror’s role in the criminal justice system.