(CN) – The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to correct “a miscarriage of justice” by turning down the appeal of a death row prisoner who said his lawyer cost him a sentence of life without parole, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The 8th Circuit had reinstated the sentence of death by lethal injection for Marcel Wayne Williams, who was convicted of murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery. The lower court threw out the evidence Williams used to support a lesser sentence because it said Williams should not have been entitled to a federal evidentiary hearing in the first place.
Sotomayor wrote that the state’s ability object to a federal habeas evidentiary hearing after the fact “enables, and even invites, states to manipulate federal habeas proceedings to their own strategic advantage at an unacceptable cost to justice.”
“The testimony at the hearing established that Williams had been ‘subject to every category of traumatic experience that is generally used to describe childhood trauma’: sexual abuse by multiple perpetrators; physical and psychological abuse by his mother and stepfather; gross medical, nutritional, and educational neglect; exposure to violence in the childhood home and neighborhood; and a violent gang-rape while in prison as an adolescent,” the dissent states.
Sotomayor wrote that the 8th Circuit incorrectly ruled for the state, which never gave the necessary, adequate notice of its objections to the evidentiary hearing.
“Indeed, rather than reveal an objection to the hearing, the record indicates that the state affirmatively consented to the hearing and sought to use the hearing to its own strategic advantage,” Sotomayor wrote. “I simply cannot see how this record suggests anything other than a deliberate strategy by the State to use the hearing to fortify the record in support of the state-court decision and to object to the hearing only if and when that strategy failed.”
The court missed an opportunity to correct “a miscarriage of justice,” according to the dissent.
“In my opinion, the interests of justice are poorly served by a rule that allows a state to object to an evidentiary hearing only after the hearing has been completed and the state has lost,” Sotomayor wrote.