The Supreme Court, in a ruling that could hasten many executions, cut back Tuesday on the rights of death row inmates to make repeated appeals of their convictions.
But the attorney for Utah death row inmate William Andrews does not believe the ruling will affect his client's current appeal. Andrews, the nation's longest standing death row inmate, has spent 16 years appealing a death sentence for the 1974 torture and slaying of three people during a robbery of Ogden's Hi Fi shop.Tuesday's 6-3 ruling in a case from Georgia was denounced by the dissenters as a drastic curtailment of the rights of criminal defendants.
The court rejected arguments by death row inmate Warren McCleskey that Georgia officials violated his rights when they failed to give him a written statement from the inmate to whom McCleskey allegedly confessed the 1978 slaying of an Atlanta police officer.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court, said McCleskey's failure to raise the issue during an earlier appeal in 1981 disqualified him from trying to use it in subsequent appeals.
Kennedy said the burden is on defendants in such cases to prove they had good reason for not raising the issue initially and that their failure to do so has prejudiced their ability to defend themselves.
He said the new rules "should curtail the abusive petitions that in recent years have threatened to undermine the integrity of the habeas corpus process."
"We do not consider Andrews' petitions to be abusive," said Robert M. Anderson, Andrews' lawyer. "We believe his petition raises a fundamental constitutional right: the right to a fair trial accorded to all citizens."
In his ruling, Kennedy said a prisoner must prove that state officials deliberately interfered with his ability to raise an issue in an earlier appeal.
Andrews' current appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is based on issues that only recently came to light, Anderson said. "We agree that items should be raised at the time they are available."
The items raised in the latest of Andrews' many appeals - testimony by a prison psychologist and the striking of a black juror possibly for race - did not come to light until recently, Anderson said.
State attorneys don't see it that way. In a brief filed recently with the 10th Circuit Court, the attorneys accused Andrews of abusing the appeals process by bringing up issues that have been raised dozens of times before.
In his ruling, Kenney said the only exception to the new restrictions on multiple appeals are those rare instances in which the defendant can show he is probably innocent of the crime, Kennedy said.
Other court action
-Ruled that states may tax cable television operators without having to levy the same tax on all other news media. The 7-2 decision upheld an Arkansas sales tax on cable TV service. Cable operators had attached the tax, which is not imposed on newpaper or magazine subscription sales, as a violation of their free-speech rights.
-Ruled that lawyers who represent themselves in successful civil rights lawsuits cannot collect attorney fees from the losing side.