Fifth Circuit Hears Oral Argument in PJI’s Heat Lawsuit

On February 3, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in PJI’s lawsuit about extreme heat on Louisiana’s death row, Ball et al. v. Leblanc et al.  

The argument took place in Houston, in the appellate room of the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse.  The panel included Judge Jennifer Elrod, Senior Judge Thomas Reavley, and Judge Edith Jones.  PJI co-counsel and board member Nilay Vora, of the Los Angeles law firm Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow, argued very well on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The argument focused on several issues, including the extent of the ruling.

A recording of the argument is available here: (Docket number is 14-30067).

Accomplished courtroom artist Gary Myrick was commissioned to create a sketch of the argument, shown above.


We now await the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

PJI Amicus Brief: Brumfield v. Cain

PJI filed an amicus brief in Brumfield v. Cain, observing that Brumfield would be the only person in Louisiana who did not receive a full and fair hearing on his claim of intellectual disability on direct appeal or in state post-conviction.  When Brumfield received a hearing in federal court, the federal judge found that Mr. Brumfield was a person with intellectual disability.  The State of Louisiana successfully argued to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that Mr. Brumfield should be executed anyway.  The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case, which is scheduled to be argued this spring and decided this summer.

Wrongful Convictions and Non-Unanimous Juries in Louisiana

PJI counsel filed cert petitions on behalf of defendants convicted based upon non-unanimous juries. Louisiana is one of only two states to allow a jury to convict a person based upon a 10-2 vote. The practice has its origins in Louisiana's Constitutional Convention of 1898, which sought to protect white suffrage at all cost. This sordid history undermines the credibility of the justice system. PJI believes that faith in the justice system reduces crime and builds stronger communities. As Louisiana has been among the leaders in the nation in wrongful convictions, PJI believes that where citizens have reasonable doubts about a defendant's guilt or innocence, a conviction cannot stand. 

Retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr. discusses wrongful convictions in this Op-Ed column, where he notes the following about public faith in the criminal justice system:

Our justice system makes two promises to its citizens: a fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result.  . . . If either of those two promises are not met, the criminal justice system itself falls into disrepute and may eventually be disregarded."

“Where corners of the Constitution are cut, the circle of trust necessary to ensure a functioning justice system is broken.”