March 01, 2009

Death Penalty in the News: U.S. Supreme Court Review

Cone v. Bell, No. 07-1114

Gary Cone was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Tennessee.  Mr. Cone claimed that mitigating evidence relating to his drug use was withheld during his trial.  The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Mr. Cone’s request to present the evidence based on the fact that the issue had been dismissed under Tennessee procedural law.  The issue is whether federal courts may consider claims that were dismissed by state courts on procedural grounds.  The case was argued on December 9, 2008.

Harbison v. Bell, No. 07-8521

Edward Harbison was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after a jury trial in Tennessee.  The question before the Court is whether the Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act of 2005 guarantees inmates federally funded counsel to pursue state clemency proceedings.  The case was argued on January 12, 2009.

District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, No. 08-06

In 1994, William Osborne was convicted of kidnapping, physical assault, and sexual assault and sentenced to 26 years in prison.  Almost 10 years after the trial, Mr. Osborne filed suit in order to obtain DNA testing.  The case is now pending before the Supreme Court, which will consider whether a state prisoner is entitled to post-conviction access to DNA evidence under the due process clause.  The case was argued on March 2, 2009. 

Bobby v. Bies, No. 08-598

Michael Bies was granted habeas relief by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  He had been sentenced to death for a murder committed in 1992, despite evidence that he was mentally retarded.  After the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the Sixth Circuit held that the Double Jeopardy Clause precluded new litigation on Mr. Bies’ mental state.  Ohio petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s decision, arguing that Mr. Bies was found to be mentally retarded before the Atkins decision.  The Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 27, 2009.