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November 17, 2009

Reinhardt Overturned for the Third Time on the Same Case!

The Ninth Circuit takes a lot of heat, but in fact there are many fine judges out here. Unfortunately, there are also less-than-stellar jurists like Judges Pregerson and Wardlaw. And then there's Judge Reinhardt, the most liberal and most reversed appellate judge in the nation.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed him for the third time on the same case. It's a death penalty case and Reinhardt has been looking for a way to overturn the sentence for a long time. Each time he does, the Supreme Court has reversed him and remanded for a new decision. And each time he gets it back, he adopts a new line of reasoning for why the sentence should be dropped.

How shoddy has Reinhardt's work on the case been? Here's what the Supreme Court said (PDF):

On remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals—addressing Belmontes’ ineffective assistance claim for the first time—changed its view of this evidence. Instead of finding Schick’s mitigation case “substantial,” as it previously had, the Ninth Circuit this time around labeled it “cursory.” Compare also Belmontes [II] (labeling the mitigation evidence Schick presented “substantial”) with Belmontes [III] (labeling the same evidence “insubstantial”). More evidence, the Court of Appeals now concluded, would have made a difference; in particular, more evidence to “humanize” Belmontes, as that court put it no fewer than 11 times in its opinion.

Reinhardt has played that game before, changing his mind about the sufficiency of evidence when he needs to. It's good to see the Supreme Court noticing it. And, BTW, I suspect the justices were not amused. The last time this case was at the Supreme Court, the justices split into their usual death penalty 5-4. This time the justices reversed Reinhardt unanimously.

They were also offended by Reinhardt's recharacterization of the nature of the crime:

We agree with the state court’s characterization of the murder, and simply cannot comprehend the assertion by the Court of Appeals that this case did not involve “needless suffering.” The jury saw autopsy photographs showing Steacy McConnell’s mangled head, her skull crushed by 15 to 20 blows from a steel dumbbell bar the jury found to have been wielded by Belmontes. McConnell’s corpse showed numerous “defensive bruises and contusions on [her] hands, arms, and feet,” which “plainly evidenced a desperate struggle for life at [Belmontes’] hands." Belmontes left McConnell to die, but officers found her still fighting for her life before ultimately succumbing to the injuries caused by the blows from Belmontes. The jury also heard that this savage murder was committed solely to prevent interference with a burglary that netted Belmontes $100 he used to buy beer and drugs for the night. McConnell suffered, and it was clearly needless.

It'll be interesting to see if Reinhardt goes back for a fourth serving.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:29 AM

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