In Parker v. Matthews (No. 11-845), the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s grant of a habeas petition overturning two murder convictions in a death penalty case (recall that the Sixth Circuit just heard two death penalty cases en banc last week). The per curium opinion rejected the Sixth Circuit’s reliance on Kentucky’s use of questionable precedent to reject a claim of sufficiency of the evidence, finding that proper jury instructions had corrected any potential problem. The opinion similarly found that a prosecutor’s misconduct during closing argument, in which he accused the defendant, defense counsel and a doctor of colluding to manufacture a state-of-mind defense, was cured by the prosecutor’s later statement that he did not believe defense counsel or the doctor had acted unethically. Perhaps appreciating that such a tepid disavowal is worthless as a practical matter, the opinion also points out that “closing argument considerably more inflammatory than the one at issue here did not warrant habeas relief” under prior Supreme Court precedent.
So far, it’s been a relatively uneventful Supreme Court term for the Sixth Circuit, but we’ve previously reported on prior Supreme Court reversals, particularly in the habeas context (here, here, here, and here). We’ll continue to follow any Supreme Court developments that impact the Sixth Circuit.