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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Angela Johnson's Death Sentence Vacated

Late last week, Angela Johnson's death sentence was vacated by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. In case you don't know who Angela Johnson is, she is a member of two distinctively small groups: women who have been given federal death sentences in the modern era and defendants sentenced to the federal death penalty for crimes committed in non-death States. Of the nine people in the modern era who have been sentenced to death in federal court for crimes committed in non-death States, five have now had their death sentences reversed or vacated: Valerie Friend, Johnson, George Lecco, Gary Sampson, and Ronell Wilson. This does not include Marvin Gabrion, who had his sentence reversed by the Sixth Circuit last year but whose appeal is currently pending in the Sixth Circuit en banc.

Posted by Michael J.Z. Mannheimer on March 27, 2012 at 12:50 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink


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Posted by: essay help | Mar 27, 2012 6:12:28 AM

Was it reversed on the grounds that it was a non-death state, or some other grounds?

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Mar 27, 2012 9:42:45 AM

Other grounds. Sorry if I left the impression that these courts have accepted the federalism argument I have advanced. Only two have had that argument squarely presented to them: the District of Vermont in U.S. v. Jacques, which rejected it (Jacques has not yet been tried) and the en banc Sixth Circuit in Gabrion, which will not hear argument until the summer. Friend, Lecco, and Sampson were vacated on jury misconduct grounds (Friend and Lecco were tried together), Johnson was IAC, and Wilson was a Griffin error. Gabrion's sentence was reversed by the Sixth Circuit panel based on Apprendi error and failure to instruct on a mitigating factor.

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Mar 27, 2012 9:59:36 AM


I appreciate your dedication to this issue, though I'm not quite convinced of your federalism argument. I am wondering, though, how the federal death penalty in non-death penalty states operates in conjunction with the fact that a prosecutor can dismiss a potential juror in a death penalty case who opposes the death penalty. It would seem that in non-death penalty states, allowing jurors who object to the death penalty to be struck during voir dire would mean that the jury is always (at least theoretically) composed of those who hold the minority view. If that's the case, and juries are supposed to be the democratic pulse of the judicial system, isn't there a concern that the defendant is not truly being tried by a juror of her peers?

Posted by: Michael Teter | Mar 27, 2012 11:18:48 AM


That is an interesting point. You ought to read Judge Calabresi's dissent from denial of rehearing en banc in U.S. v. Fell, 571 F.3d 264, 272 (2d Cir. 2009), and Judge Raggi's concurrence in denial of rehearing en banc, id. at 264, where they debate that very issue.

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Mar 27, 2012 11:32:55 AM

Thanks for pointing me to the Calabresi/Raggi debate. I finally had a chance to read it this evening. I think Calabresi got it right. It's certainly an interesting issue to consider.

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