Constitutional Law

3rd Circuit Voids Death Penalty in Abu-Jamal Case

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In the latest appellate court ruling in a controversial and long-running capital case that appears almost certain to continue further, a federal appeals court today voided the death penalty given in 1982 to a black activist whose supporters say he was convicted in a racist trial.

However, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Mumia Abu-Jamal’s conviction for murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Its decision in every regard affirmed an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., who also voided the death penalty due to faulty jury instructions. The Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit’s 118-page ruling today (PDF) is provided by Villanova University School of Law.

The prosecution must now decide whether to hold a new jury trial to determine whether Abu-Jamal should again be sentenced to death. If no such trial is held, he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison, the newspaper explains.

“I am not happy that two of the three judges turned a deaf ear to the racism that permeated this case,” says Robert Bryan, a San Francisco lawyer who has been representing Abu-Jamal. The defense contends that blacks were unconstitutionally excluded from the jury that convicted him of first-degree murder.

However, Bryan says he was “heartened and thrilled” by Judge Thomas Ambro’s dissenting opinion on that issue.

Rallies about the case are planned tomorrow outside federal courthouses in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco, reports USA Today.

Additional coverage:

Agence France-Presse: “US court orders new hearing for death row campaigner”

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