Death Penalty: December 2008 Archives

Nevada Supreme Court issues opinion

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Nika v. State - In an en banc opinion authored by Justice Hardesty, with Justices Cherry and Saitta dissenting, the Court finds the following:  "The primary issue in this appeal concerns a jury instruction defining premeditation, commonly referred to as the Kazalyn instruction, and our decision in Byford v. State, which addressed specific concerns about that instruction.  Appellant Avram Nika challenges our subsequent decisions that Byford announced a new rule with prospective affect. In considering his argument, we reexamine whether our decision in Byford constituted a clarification of existing law or a change in the law respecting the meaning of the mens rea for first-degree murder.  We hold that Byford announced a change in state law that applies prospectively to murder convictions that were not final when Byford was decided.  Nika's conviction was final before Byford was decided.  Consequently, we conclude that Nika's trial and appellate counsel were not ineffective for failing to challenge the Kazalyn instruction as that instruction was a correct statement of the law at the time of his trial."  torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

In reaching this decision, the Court criticizes the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Polk v. Sandoval:  "The fundamental flaw, however, in Polk's analysis is the underlying assumption that Byford merely reaffirmed a distinction between 'willfulness,' 'deliberation,' and 'premeditation.'  It was based on that assumption that Polk concluded that the Kazalyn instruction was erroneous and that the instructional error violated the federal Constitution by omitting an element of the offense.  That underlying assumption ignores our jurisprudence."torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

The Court, however, also recognized that portions its holdings in Garner and Byford were not correct: "Despite our disagreement with the assumption underlying the decision in Polk, we acknowledge that the change effected by Byford properly applied to that case as a matter of due process.  The United States Supreme Court has indicated that for purposes of due process, the relevant consideration 'is not just whether the law changed' but also 'when the law changed.'  Thus, if the law changed to narrow the scope of a criminal statute before a defendant's conviction became final, then due process requires that the change be applied to that defendant.  In such cases, retroactivity is not at issue; rather, due process requires that the conviction be set aside if required by the change in the law. In this respect, our decision in Garner erroneously afforded Byford complete prospectivity because as a matter of due process, the change effected in Byford applies to convictions that were not yet final at the time of the change.  Polk involved such a conviction.  This case, however, does not. Because Nika's conviction was final when Byford was decided, whether the change effected in Byford applies to Nika is a matter of retroactivity analysis.  This court previously has held that Byford has no retroactive application on collateral review. We reaffirm that decision today."torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

In Sechrest v. Ignacio, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses death sentences based upon a 1983 conviction for two murder convictions in Washoe County.  The 41 page opinion addresses procedural default issues, law of the case, an alleged Miranda violation, and several penalty phase issues.  The Court holds that the prosecutor's repeated misstatements regarding the likelihood of Sechrest's release from prison by parole were he to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole violated his due process right to a fair trial, and that the violation had a substantial and injurious effect on the jury's sentencing decision.  The prosecutor had made four statements indicating that Board of Pardon Commissioners could -- and likely would -- release Sechrest if the jury returned a verdict of less than death.  The Court found the misconduct to be prejudicial after noting that "a jury sitting in a capital case must be given a clear choice between the death penalty and a life sentence."  torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

The Court also found that while the prosecutor's misconduct alone justified its holding, testimony by a psychiatrist exacerbated the prejudicial effect of the prosecutor's remarks.  Defense counsel had retained a psychiatrist to evaluate Sechrest.  Although defense counsel decided not to call the witness, counsel gave a copy of the expert's report to the State.  The State then called the psychiatrist as a witness and elicited the fact that he had examined Sechrest at defense counsel's request.  The psychiatrist informed the jury of Sechrest's criminal history, stated that he had a callous disregard for human life, and was an incurable sociopath who, if released, would pose a danger to others, particularly to little girls.  The Ninth Circuit rejected the findings by the state district court and federal district court that the psychiatrist's testimony was cumulative and instead noted the significance of testimony presented by a mental health expert.torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

The Court next found that defense counsel was ineffective for three reasons.  First, defense counsel should not have allowed the prosecution to review the psychiatrist's confidential report on Sechrest's mental health.  Counsel had decided not to call the psychiatrist as a witness, but inexplicably disclosed the confidential and privileged report to the prosecution.  Without this report the prosecution would not have had access to this privileged information.  "Defense counsel had absolutely no obligation to disclose [the] confidential report to the prosecution."  Second, defense counsel should not have stipulated to the prosecutor calling the psychiatrist as a witness for the prosecution.  Further, the jury was told that the psychiatrist was hired by the defense.  The Court rejected defense counsel's explanation at an evidentiary hearing, in which he stated that he did not object because he believed the psychiatrist would provide helpful information about Sechrest's troubled background, as this was not a sound strategic decision.  The Court found the explanation to be implausible as defense counsel did not call the witness and did not pursue or argue any mitigating factors related to Sechrest's troubled background.  Third, defense counsel's preparation for Dr. Gerow's testimony fell far below an objective standard of reasonableness.  Defense counsel did not speak with the psychiatrist after agreeing to let him testify for the prosecution.  The lack of preparation was evidence from counsel's lackluster performance at trial.torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

Congratulations on the victory to Tiffany Murphy and Michael Pescetta of the Federal Public Defender's Office.torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

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This page is a archive of entries in the Death Penalty category from December 2008.torrent Video Strip Poker 1.42

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