Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in a University of Texas at Austin School of Law Capital Punishment Clinic's case, agreeing on Friday to review a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. This case marks the third time in three years that the Capital Punishment Clinic, ran by CrimProfs Rob Owen, Jordan Steiker, and Jim Marcus, will litigate in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case, Smith v. Texas, involves a Dallas County inmate, Laroyce Smith, who was sentenced to death in 1991. At Smith's trial, his defense counsel presented extensive mitigating evidence regarding Smith's intellectual impairments, learning disabilities, placement in special education, and difficult family background.
After he was convicted, Smith argued in state court habeas proceedings that the sentencing instructions did not allow jurors to consider such evidence, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a 2004 decision (Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37). On remand, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals nonetheless concluded that Smith's death sentence could stand. It is that decision that the U.S. Supreme Court will review this Term.
Professor Steiker describes the current Supreme Court case "as involving an issue as old as the Constitution: whether state courts must adhere to the spirit and letter of decisions of the United States Supreme Court." Steiker and the clinic supervisors will involve students in the difficult task of briefing the case for the Court and preparing for the staggering range of federal and state issues that bear on the resolution of the case. [Mark Godsey]