Written by Heidi Boghosian
Sunday, 01 May 2011 06:28
Mumia - legal update
The Third Circuit Court just granted Mumia relief on the Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), ruling.
This is an important decision in this 30-year old legal battle.
Congratulations are due to Professor Judith Ritter for her brilliant job before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals this past fall. Here is a brief description of Mills and of what we can expect.
The Mills ruling concerns poor or confusing instructions to the jury during the sentencing phase of a death penalty trial.
In Mumia's case, the jury was confused about how and when to consider evidence that might mitigate against a death penalty verdict.
An example of such mitigating evidence in his case might have been that he had no prior criminal recordbefore his 1982 conviction, that he was a citizen in good standing, and an award-winning journalist at time of trial.
But because of the confusing instructions in the verdict form used by the jurors when considering life in prison or the death penalty, they may have understood that in order to hear mitigating evidence against the death penalty, all 12 members of the jury would have to unanimously agree to hear such evidence, when in fact any juror could have asked to hear mitigating evidence without approval from the others.
Winning on the Mills claim can result in a new sentencing phase trial or an automatic change in a penalty from a death sentence to life in prison without parole.
Now that the Third Circuit has granted Mumia the Mills claim, what comes next?
The prosecution will appeal the Third Circuit case to the Supreme Court and Mumia's attorneys will also submit briefs in defense of their position.
It is likely that the Supreme Court will not hear arguments on this issue again, given that high court already heard the Mills issue in this case and decided to remand the issue of Mills back to the Third Circuit for the Third Circuit to decide whether Mumia really had a Mills claim.
It is also possible, but hopefully unlikely, that the DA may request an en banc rehearing on the Mills claim.
This sometimes happens in political cases after a victory for the political prisoner.
For example, in the case of the Cuban Five the government requested an en banc rehearing after the 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit unanimously overturned the Five's convictions.
(The 3 judges found that pervasive prejudice against the Castro government combined with other factors to deprive them of a fair trial.)
The US government appealed and the Circuit Court (en banc) reversed the 3-judge panel's decision a year later.
If the Supreme Court does not hear arguments on Mills once again, the Philadelphia DA's office will have to grant Mumia a new sentencing phase trial or release him to general population for a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Life in prison without parole is no victory for Mumia, but given the long history of Supreme Court precedent reversals in the case of Abu-Jamal, the Third Circuit Court has ruled that there were serious constitutional violations in this case.
Now it is up to the people of conscience of this world to get to the business of building a movement that will free this extraordinary black radical Guild member.
(This summary was written by Johanna Fernandez, approved by Judith Ritter, and edited and augmented by Heidi Boghosian).