Brief of Amici Curiae Due Process institute, Cato Institute, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Rutherford Institute, District of Columbia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and Law Professors in Support Petition for a Writ of Certiorari.
Argument: The standard-of-review question this case presents implicates profound concerns with federal sentencing--concerns with substantial constitutional implications. Federal courts routinely sentence defendants to years in prison based on hearsay statements relayed to the court at sentencing by law enforcement officers. Those statements often come from convicted criminals who want to reduce their sentences by cooperating with the government. The cooperating criminals do not appear in court, so the district judge has no opportunity to assess their demeanor. They do not swear an oath to tell the truth. They do not face cross-examination. And their out-of-court statements need only persuade the judge by a preponderance of the evidence. Petitioner Beltran Leyva faces a life sentence based on precisely such evidence. Defendants have few safeguards against sentencing enhancements that rest on false out-of-court statements from cooperating criminals. One such protection is searching appellate review. De novo review by the court of appeals ensures that the reliability of the cooperator's statement will receive a second level of careful scrutiny. And de novo review comports with the rationale for heightened appellate scrutiny: the stakes--a person's right to due process of law before losing his liberty--are high, and, because the district court never observes the cooperator's demeanor, the appellate court is just as capable of evaluating his credibility.
Amicus curiae brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in support of the petition for certiorari.
Argument: Neal Robbins was convicted of capital murder of his girlfriend’s 17-month-old child based on the testimony of a medical examiner who later re-evaluated her opinion and swears that she can no longer stand by her testimony that the child died of asphyxiation. Lower courts are divided as to whether new scientific evidence warrants a new trial. The Court should reverse the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and grant Robbins a new trial for three reasons: (1) scientific evidence plays an increasingly important role in criminal trials, and courts need guidance on how best to account for evidence that is shown to be unreliable after conviction; (2) the holding of the court of criminal appeals violates due process by heightening the burden of proof non the petitioner in a post-conviction proceeding to an impossibly high level; and (3) this case is the right vehicle for review of this issue because it presents a situation where the scientific evidence was the only direct evidence of homicide and thus central to Robbins’ conviction and was recanted in full by the expert witness.