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US Supreme Court rules in favor of death row inmates in 2 cases

Via Scotusblog:

"In one of two rulings Wednesday on death penalty procedures in Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas' highest state court wrongly put up a new legal barrier to a death row inmate's challenge to jury instructions in his sentencing. The 5-4 decision came in the case of Smith v. Texas, a case that had been before the Court once before. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The Court reversed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' ruling that reinstated the death sentence of a Dallas man, LaRoyce Smith; the state court had applied a new harmless error standard under state law. That was a misinterpretation of what federal law required, the Court concluded.

In the consolidated cases of Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman and Brewer v. Quarterman, the Court in another 5-4 decision found that the Fifth Circuit Court wrongly applied prior rulings on instructions to assure that capital juries give full consideration to any factor that might suggest a death sentence should not be imposed."

Smith v. Texas is available here. Justice Kennedy delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Justice Souter also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion which was joined by Chief Justice Robers and Justices Scalia and Thomas. At surface, the case presents an issue which is fairly unique to Texas capital jurisprudence, but there is some application beyond the unique Texas situation. The opinion addresses procedural default, preservation of issues, and lower court interpretation of a Supreme Court decision upon remand.

Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman is available here. Justice Stevens delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion which was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion which was joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Alito in part.

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