WHAT HAPPENED:  Defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.  Somewhere along the line, a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief was granted in favor of Defendant, staying his death sentence.  That finding was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where it was reversed, thus reinstating the death penalty.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  As luck would have it, one of the Judges who reversed Defendant’s successful appeal used to work for the District Attorney in PA before being appointed to the bench.  While in his previous position, he was at least part of the decision to charge Defendant with death.  This potential conflict of interest is the crux of this case, where the Court has to determine whether or not this judge was biased enough to force recusal for Defendant’s appeal.

WHAT IS THE RULING:  This case is not  yet decided.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS:  There are potentially two different questions here that need to be asked.  (1)  Whether this particular judge should have recused himself on the appeal, and (2)  what are the rules going forward for judges in this position, because this judge is not the first or last person from the District Attorney’s Office to get appointed to an appellate court and hear a death penalty appeal.  Putting the specifics of Defendant’s case aside, this case could pass rules concerning under which circumstances judges should be recused based on previous work, which could affect death penalty appeals most specifically since they are both common and highly scrutinized.

ROOT FOR WILLIAMS IF: You are on-board with the “death by 1,000” cuts approach to dismantling the death penalty.

ROOT FOR PA IF: You watch Judge Dredd and think “maybe Stallone is on to something here…..”

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