Delaware Supreme Court Holds the Death Penalty as Unconstitutional

The Delaware Supreme Court issued an opinion on August 2, 2016, holding the death penalty unconstitutional. The Delaware Supreme Court rejected the state statute that allowed for imposition of a death sentence based upon a non-unanimous jury verdict, and under circumstances in which the State failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that death was the appropriate punishment.  In issuing the opinion, the Court referenced the Amicus Brief of The Promise of Justice Initiative, New Orleans, Louisiana, Amicus Curiae for the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice,  noting:

Rauf is joined by amicus curiae, who echo his arguments, but who also make  a more fundamental argument, which is that there is no more fundamentally  important role for a jury fairly drawn from the community than determining  whether a defendant should live or die.  They read Hurst as recognizing a more essential consideration that has been obscured in the complexity of the  post-Furman world, which is that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury has perhaps  its most powerful importance when the question is whether the defendant should  live or die.

Rauf at 58-59.    The Promise of Justice Initiative Brief on behalf of Rauf is attached below.  PJI and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute provided the amicus brief in part due to the racial origins of Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury rule.  Louisiana is one of the few states that allow a non-unanimous juries in non-capital cases.  

The Rauf opinion calls into question the continued legitimacy of non-unanimous verdicts.  Louisiana’s death penalty statute has a similar problem to Delaware’s as it fails to require the jury to determine beyond a reasonable doubt, that death is the appropriate punishment.  


Download this file (Rauf - CHHIRJ - Amicus Brief (Time Stamped).pdf)PJI- Rauf Amicus Brief

Victory at the United States Supreme Court for Jabari Williams

On June 20th, PJI earned a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court for their client, Jabari Williams, who was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder in New Orleans in 2012 following a trial marred with error.

In reversing the decisions below, the Supreme Court took particular concern with the Louisiana courts' treatment of Mr. Williams's claim that the Orleans Parish District Attorney had discriminated on the basis of race in selecting the jury, sending a strong reminder that "a Louisiana court, like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court's interpretation of federal law."

Unfortunately, Mr. WIlliams' case is just the latest instance--following their recent decisions in Smith v. Cain and Wearry v. Cain--in which the U.S. Supreme Court has been forced to intervene to remedy Louisiana courts' indifference to indigent persons' rights. But the Court's decision on Monday is nevertheless an important victory for Mr. Williams and criminal defendants everywhere, who should never stand trial before a jury selected in a racially discriminatory manner.

Congratulations to Mr. Williams!


The Corey Williams Story- When the State Fails to Protect Minors with Disabilities

Read more about Corey’s story in this recent write-up in The Shreveport Times, where his attorney, Blythe Taplin had this to say:

"For an intellectually disabled, innocent, teenager to be removed from death row and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, it isn’t a victory — it’s a tragedy every day that Corey remains in prison. This state was supposed to protect kids like Corey. Given what we know now, it’s clear that we failed him."

Read the Innocence Project's Amicus brief below. 

Download this file (IPNO Amicus Brief.pdf)IPNO Amicus Brief.pdf

UPDATE - Evidentiary Hearing in Heat Case

PJI attorneys and co-counsel returned to court for an evidentiary hearing in our ongoing excessive heat litigation on June 15, 2016.  The evidentiary hearing, before Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson in the Middle District of Louisiana, centered on whether the remedial measures the prison has offered to date are sufficient to remedy the Eighth Amendment violation to which our clients are subjected throughout the summer.  

The remedial measures – consisting of additional access to ice, fans, and cool showers – do nothing to lower the temperature and humidity on the tiers where death row prisoners reside.  This is why PJI has asked the court to order a remedy that actually addresses the root of the problem: dangerously extreme heat.  

The prison itself has agreed that air conditioning is the only way to bring down the dangerous heat index levels on the tiers.  Both sides will submit additional briefing to the court in July and we will thereafter await the court’s decision.