Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trends and Updates: More on Musladin

Google blogsearch Skilling (as in Jeffrey) for all the blogs on going straight to prison. It usually means getting an early start on the time, inevitably, to be served pending appeal. It is a significant blow, however, when the defendant has even a slight chance of winning remand or reversal on appeal.

A Poll, always interesting, about Government and Privacy here from Washington Post:

Sixty-six percent of those questioned said that the FBI and other agencies are "intruding on some Americans' privacy rights" in terrorism investigations, up from 58 percent in September 2003. Thirty percent think the government is not intruding on privacy.

Support for intrusive tactics has dropped even more significantly during that time. A bare majority, 51 percent, feel the tactics are justified, down from 63 percent three years ago.
The poll was conducted by telephone from Dec. 7 through Monday, and the results have a three-percentage-point margin of error.

RE: Carey v. Musladin (my earlier posting here -- opinion here Carey v. Musladin). Justice Thomas:

This Court has recognized that certain courtroom practices are so inherently prejudicial that they deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Estelle v. Williams, 425 U. S. 501, 503-506 (1976); Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U. S. 560, 568 (1986). In this case, a state court held that buttons displaying the victim’s image worn by the victim’s familyduring respondent’s trial did not deny respondent his rightto a fair trial. We must decide whether that holding was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, as determined by this Court. 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). We hold that it was not.

***Given the lack of holdings from this Court regarding thepotentially prejudicial effect of spectators’ courtroomconduct of the kind involved here, it cannot be said that the state court "unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law." §2254(d)(1). No holding of this Courtrequired the California Court of Appeal to apply the test of Williams and Flynn to the spectators’ conduct here. Therefore, the state court’s decision was not contrary to oran unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.
My thought: SCOTUS could simply decline to establish clear law, accomplishing the aim of making it impossible for lower courts to grant relief under the AEDPA standard. Indeed, Justice Thomas's opinion clearly reflects a reluctance to provide much, if any, guidance as to what the substantive law is. He has simply found no clearly established law on the issue and that is the end of the matter for him. Too bad that all SCOTUS cases are not so easy to resolve, and that two of the often "liberals," Justices Ginsberg and Breyer, joined in this swat against justice and stare decisis.

If the justices do not wish to discuss the substance of the law, what is and was, and what could or should be, then why grant cert at all? The answer in this case? Just to reverse the Ninth Circuit. How does this advance the stated goals of the Court's review powers?

The good thing might be that the case leaves open the door just a skosh for a similar claim in which better facts might be found. But what better facts could there be involving possible coercion, intimidation, in the courtroom? It would seem that there MIGHT be a matter of degree in question, but when it comes to coercion or intimidation it is hard to draw the line between how much is too much. The analogy is this: how much pain is too much? Just cut off the pinkie, maybe...or just the tip of the pinkie finger, that won't hurt quite as much.

The real lesson here is that you can not shoot and kill somebody and expect to get habeas relief afterwards. This is page 1, section I, para. 1 of the opinion: On May 13, 1994, respondent Mathew Musladin shot and killed Tom Studer outside the home of Musladin’s estranged wife, Pamela. Game, set, match, checkmate, strike three, game over. Simple as that for this panel. That is not good news for the law. Because the point of the law is to make darn sure that you did the killing (with requisite intent), not that there was one.

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