Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Duality of Death (Cal. Cts. - July 7, 2011)

The California Supreme Court is no Ninth Circuit.  And vice versa.  Particularly when it comes to death.

Today brings two different death penalty cases.  With results that will surprise few.

John Famalaro is sentenced to death in California.  The murder occurred two decades ago.  The California Supreme Court takes up the case on direct review of the sentence.  It unanimously affirms.

Richard Hurles is sentenced to death in Arizona.  This murder occurred almost two decades ago, in 1992.  The Arizona courts are happy with this result, and grant him no relief, both on direct review and on state habeas.  The case reaches the Ninth Circuit on federal habeas, and Hurles draws a panel consisting of Judges Pregerson, Nelson and Ikuta.  The Ninth Circuit reverses.  With a lineup that one would expect:  Judges Pregerson and Nelson in the majority, and Judge Ikuta dissenting.

The persistence of neither opinion is guaranteed.  The Ninth Circuit hardly shirks from reversing unanimous California Supreme Court death penalty opinions.  And the United States Supreme Court hardly shirks from reversing split Ninth Circuit death penalty opinions.

So there are surely more fights to come.

But the contrast is nonetheless fairly stark for now.