Cassell Files USSC Brief Urging Review of Death Row Case

On January 13, 2010, Professor Paul G. Cassell filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to review a case involving the oldest person on death row to prevent further delays.   The brief was filed on behalf of Cynthia Hubbard, joined by the National Crime Victims Law Institute and Arizona Voice for Crime Victims.

Mrs. Hubbard’s husband Gregory West was murdered in 1982 during a jewelry store robbery in Arizona.   Viva Leroy Nash was convicted of the murder in 1983 and has been raising unsuccessfully challenges to his conviction and death sentence for more than a quarter century.

Most recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed further proceedings on the merits of Nash’s latest habeas corpus challenge  and remanded the case back to the trial court for a hearing on whether Nash is mentally competent to proceed with his challenges. Although Nash is 93 years old (purportedly the oldest death row inmate in the country), he has (among other things) been maintaining  a correspondence with a newspaper in Arizona about the desirability of the death penalty.

Cassell’s brief argues that the lower courts are divided on the circumstances in which mental competency issues should entitle a death row inmate seeking habeas corpus relief to stay further proceedings pending a finding of competency. The brief further argues that the Supreme Court should take the case to clarify the rights of crime victims’ families to have proceedings free from unreasonable delay, including being free from such delay in capital cases. The brief concludes:

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is worthy of review to prevent the untold harm that it will inflict on crime victims’ families. In this case, for example, it will lead to yet another delay in proceedings already spanning more than two decades. Given the large number of capital cases in the Ninth Circuit and the large number of cases in which claims of competency can be raised under the Ninth Circuit’s accommodating standards, this case has important implications for many crime victims’ families. The Court should therefore grant Arizona’s petition for certiorari and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s novel invention of a new statutory right.

Click here to read the brief