The Supreme Court returns to hearing new cases at oral argument on Monday. After a two-week break, they will hear four cases in the week ahead. The cases and summaries of them are listed below. Two cases involve important concepts in federal capital cases appealing death sentences from state courts. The others are mostly inside baseball unlikely to affect many Americans.
Ayestas v. Davis
This concerns the funding of cases regarding indigent defendants and the funding of parts of their defense. Most importantly, it is to do with federal death penalty cases. Mr. Ayestas was sentenced to death for murder by a Texas state court in 1997. He argued his trial attorney was incompetent by not having what’s called a “mitigation investigation” done, and that investigation could have resulted in Ayestas receiving a lesser sentence than death. Does federal law require taxpayers to foot the bill for such investigations? From SCOTUSblog:
“As part of the Criminal Justice Act, Congress has provided in 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f) that federal courts in capital cases involving indigent defendants (including suits for post-conviction relief) should fund “investigative, expert, or other services [that] are reasonably necessary for the representation of the defendant, whether in connection with issues relating to guilt or the sentence.””
Wilson v. Sellers
Here is another death-penalty case of a convicted murderer claiming ineffective assistance of counsel – an attempt to have his conviction overturned or reversed because the errors of his attorneys were so profoundly damaging. The issue his case presents before the high court has to do with rules enacted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. That act makes federal courts give deference to certain state court decisions regarding habeas petitions (the kind filed in death-penalty cases).
This complicated case is about federal courts second-guessing state courts, and which state court opinions must the federal courts give deference to. If Wilson loses, then death-penalty defendants will have a tougher time getting federal courts to review the decisions of state courts likely leading to fewer reversals and more state executions.
U.S. Bank N.A. v. Village at Lakeridge
This is an appellate procedure case sure to set afire the passions of all who read about it:
“The case involves the Bankruptcy Code’s definition of an “insider” creditor, a term that demarcates a group of creditors that the statute treats more suspiciously than it does traditional arm’s-length creditors. Traditionally, bankruptcy law assumes that a bankrupt’s dealings with a hostile bank lender are less worrisome than its dealings with its sole shareholder; dealings with “insiders” might be designed to disadvantage other less-favored creditors.”
Where exactly is the line drawn on who is and who isn’t an insider? At dozens of high-level bankruptcy attorneys are waiting with baited breath.
Artis v. District of Columbia
Here’s how SCOTUSblog describes this one:
“It’s a head-scratcher that may captivate only true federal jurisdiction and statutory interpretation aficionados, but the answer could affect the timing of litigation around the country.”
This case simply asks the court to decide what happens to state-level claims when those claims were pursued in federal court and then relitigated at the state level. Statutes of limitations at the state level are tolled or suspended while claims make their way through the federal system. This case concerns exactly how many days do parties have before the stopwatch on their state claims starts up again.
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