Monday, January 09, 2006

What is "Actual Innocence"?

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in House v. Bell. Willamette Law Online provides this introduction:

House v. Bell

Court below: 386 F.3d 668 (6th Cir. 2004)

CRIMINAL LAW (Standard Of Evidence Required To Support Habeas Relief)

The issue in this case is whether habeas relief may be granted by the showing of new evidence from which a reasonable juror would not convict, but does not disprove all evidence of guilt.

Paul House (House) was convicted by jury of first degree murder and sentenced to death in 1985. House appealed his conviction and sentence on various grounds in the Tennessee state courts. House then filed for habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (District Court,) which denied his claim. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Court of Appeals), the Court of Appeals held that it would defer to the judgment of the District Court, on the grounds that the new evidence was not so strong as to make it “more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in light of the new evidence.”

On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, House will argue that the new evidence raises enough doubt so that any reasonable juror would not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that even though all evidence originally presented against him at trial has not been negated, sufficient doubt has been raised to justify a new trial. House will further argue that the new evidence presented establishes a free standing claim of actual innocence and should be sufficient to allow his acquittal.

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