By JEFF MACKLER
On Oct. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court opened its fall term by releasing a list of all cases in which it denied defendants a “writ of certiorari.” Death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was among those listed. Jamal had filed his petition on April 22.
Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge is expected to sign a new warrant for Abu-Jamal’s execution within days.
A writ of certiorari is a special request that the Supreme Court use its discretionary power to review important legal questions without the defendant having to proceed through the usual three-tiered federal appeals process.
In this instance, Abu-Jamal contended that his constitutional rights to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment had been violated.
Specifically, Abu-Jamal argued that Pennsylvania state Judge Albert Sabo’s removal of Mumia from the courtroom without provisions to follow the court proceedings where his own life was at stake, violated his constitutional rights.
Mumia further argued that Judge Sabo had abridged a legally protected right by refusing to allow him to function as his own attorney.
Finally, Mumia contested Judge Sabo’s dismissal of a juror based on a meeting with the juror in the judge’s chambers, from which Mumia had been excluded.
While the defense team, headed by Leonard Weinglass, had months earlier predicted that the Supreme Court was unlikely to intervene in the case at this point in the proceedings, the court’s refusal is consistent with the new “federalist” trend wherein federal courts are hesitant to reverse state courts’ decisions.
This “states-rights” doctrine used to be the “law of the land” until the Civil Rights movement of decades past compelled federal authorities, including federal courts, to review gross violations of democratic rights perpetrated by Southern white supremacist public officials and institutions.
Within the next few days, according to Weinglass, Mumia’s legal team will file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court in Philadelphia. This will begin the normal federal appeals process.
Under the restrictive provisions of the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act, however, federal courts are now expected to operate based on a new standard, “presumption of correctness,” in regard to factual findings of state courts.
This explains why Judge Sabo went to such lengths to “paper the court record,” however spurious and devious, with regard to the wide range of issues raised by Mumia’s defense.
Application of the “presumption of correctness” standard, therefore, implies accepting the trial record and findings of “hanging judge” Sabo, who has sentenced more people to death than any sitting judge in the United States.
In the same manner, the reversal of the previous standard of “innocent until proven guilty,” means that the Fraternal Order of Police-supported Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be presumed to have acted properly.
The legal team will focus on its request that the Federal District Court grant a new evidentiary hearing in which evidence demonstrating Mumia’s innocence, which was excluded from examination by Sabo and the state courts, can be evaluated.
The multi-layered legal brief in preparation by the defense team will contest findings of the Pennsylvania state courts ranging from ballistic evidence, witness statements, forensic material, jury selection, as well as the numerous legal issues raised in the case.
It will, in addition, introduce the testimony of eyewitnesses whose testimony was either never heard in the original trial or was recanted.
In the event of a signing of a new death warrant, national coordinators of Mumia’s defense have issued a call for nationwide local demonstrations to be held “THE DAY AFTER” the signing. (Contact your local coalition for time and place.)
This will be followed by two regional marches and rallies:
· San Francisco, Saturday, Oct. 16, 12 noon, assembling at Powell and Market Streets.
· Philadelphia, the Saturday following the signing (probably Oct. 16), assembling at Broad and Spring Garden Streets.
Next month, as Mumia’s case enters its last year or so, national Mumia organizers, including this writer, will be meeting to lay plans for a national conference designed to approve a series of nationwide events-including a major mass-action mobilization.
For further information, call the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, in San Francisco, (415) 695-7745, or the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, in Philadelphia, (215) 476-8812.