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SCOTUS asked to hear stun-belt case

July 20, 2011

When the Supreme Court of the United States returns for its new term beginning in October, Indiana will likely learn whether the high court will hear a case relating to a stun-belt restraint used here during a convicted murder’s trial.

The Indiana attorney general’s office filed a response in mid-June to the certiorari petition filed earlier this year on behalf of John Stephenson, convicted in 1997 for three murders and sentenced to death.

U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana found in his favor on a habeas corpus petition and reversed the death sentence, but she didn’t consider all of his arguments on the merits. Last year, the 7th Circuit ordered her to reconsider that ruling because of potential prejudice resulting from his wearing the stun-belt at the sentencing phase. The full appellate court declined to revisit the case en banc and Stephenson could get a new trial based on that penalty-specific issue.

Urging the justices to deny certiorari, the AG’s 11-page brief says SCOTUS review is premature because the lower federal courts haven’t fully analyzed the stun-belt restraint claim involving ineffective assistance of counsel. The AG also objects to Stephenson’s suggestion that the justices retroactively apply recent precedent to his case in a way that is essentially creating a new criminal procedure rule. The 7th Circuit applied existing caselaw from 1984 when determining there was no reasonable probability that Stephenson would have been acquitted if his trial counsel objected to the stun belt or appeared before the jury unrestrained, according to the brief.

The SCOTUS has set this case for consideration at its late September conference following the summer recess.•
 

Rehearing "Court won't rehear stun-belt case" IL Feb. 2-15, 2011

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