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Samuel Alito on Crime

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Overruled by Supreme Court on death penalty adequate counsel

SEN. FEINGOLD: Nowhere is this guarantee of “the assistance of counsel for his defense” more important than in cases where the defendant’s life is on the line. In a death penalty case you decided in 2004 called Rompilla v. Horn, you rejected the defendant’s argument that his attorneys had failed to do an adequate investigation to prepared for his sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court reversed your decision, ruling that the defense attorney’s failure to even review evidence they knew the prosecution was going to introduce at sentencing violated the Sixth Amendment.

ALITO: We had to apply the standard of review that is set out in the habeas corpus statute as revised by Congress.

FEINGOLD: Would your approach have been any different as a Supreme Court justice?

ALITO: One of the attorneys was the head of a public defender’s office. My evaluation of the facts of the case would be the same. But the Supreme Court’s decision in that case is a precedent that I would have to deal with.

Source: Sam Alito Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 11, 2006

Congress limits judicial review of death penalty cases

SEN. FEINGOLD: Your record in death penalty case has been more anti-capital defendant even than most Republican-appointed judges. In every disputed capital case that you heard?cases in which a panel of three judges did not all agree?you would have ruled against the defendant.

ALITO: I’ve only sat on a handful of capital cases, and in some of them I voted to uphold the death penalty and in a number of them I voted to strike down the death penalty.

FEINGOLD: What are your views on the potential of these three issues?the jury selection, the inadequate representation and an elected judiciary?to skew a capital prosecution against the defendant?

ALITO: I think the elected judges in Pennsylvania do a conscientious effort to carry out their responsibilities. Congress reformulated the standards in AEDPA, in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, limiting our review, and it is our obligation to conduct the kind of review that Congress has indicated we should be conducting.

Source: Sam Alito Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 11, 2006

Casinos not responsible for drunken gambling losses

While gambling in Atlantic City, a man chose to accept from the casino many free drinks. That, he said, was why he lost “substantial” sums and why he sued the casino, charging that it “intentionally and maliciously enticed him” on numerous occasions. Judge Sam Alito was unpersuaded.

Alito noted that New Jersey courts have not made servers of alcohol liable beyond injuries resulting from drunken driving or accidents or brawls in a bar. Alito saw no evidence of a legislative intent to make casinos liable for giving alcohol to gamblers. Alito also cited the lower court’s opinion that making casinos liable for losses incurred by drunken gamblers “could present almost metaphysical problems of proximate causation, since sober gamblers can play well yet lose big, intoxicated gamblers can still win big, and under the prevailing rules and house odds, ‘the house will win and the gamblers will lose’ anyway in the typical transaction.”

Source: George F. Will, Newsweek, “Three Samples of Alito” , Nov 21, 2005

Ineffective counsel not grounds to overturn death sentence

Case Summary: Rompilla v. Horn (3d Circuit 2004)

Judge Alito wrote the Court?s majority opinion in this capital case, concluding that the district court improperly vacated defendant’s death sentence on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. While the defendant argued that his attorneys should ?take all the steps that might have been pursued by the most resourceful defense attorneys with bountiful investigative support.? Case Summary: US v. Sherman (3d Circuit 1998)

In a unanimous decision, Alito joined two other judges overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a doctor?s indictment for perjuring himself under oath as an expert in a medical malpractice trial. The doctor was not entitled to assert a recantation defense when it was ?too late to allow him to rely upon it to defend himself from prosecution under the general perjury statute.?
-- Court reinstates a doctor?s perjury indictment.

Source: FindLaw.com Case Summaries , Feb 25, 2004

Recanting perjury not enough to overturn perjury conviction

Case Summary: US v. Sherman (3d Circuit 1998)

In a unanimous decision, Alito joined two other judges overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a doctor?s indictment for perjuring himself under oath as an expert in a medical malpractice trial. The doctor was not entitled to assert a recantation defense when it was ?too late to allow him to rely upon it to defend himself from prosecution under the general perjury statute.?
-- Court reinstates a doctor?s perjury indictment.

Source: FindLaw.com Case Summaries , Jul 15, 1999

Live witness not required for all scientific testing.

Justice Alito joined the dissent on BULLCOMING v. NEW MEXICO on Jun 23, 2011:

Bullcoming was arrested for drunk driving. A blood sample seized by police was given to a state laboratory for testing of its blood alcohol content (BAC). A state chemist performed the test and completed a portion of a document intended for use in a criminal trial. At trial this chemist was not present--was, in fact, on an unexplained unpaid leave--but another chemist appeared to describe the lab's process and read the results from the form over defense counsel's objection.

HELD: Delivered by Ginsburg; joined by Scalia, Sotomayor, Kagan & Thomas

The Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause confers on the accused in criminal cases "the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him." The testing chemist was not a mere scrivener of results, but performed the test and recorded significant facts about its integrity and accuracy. The substituted chemist had no personal knowledge of the blood test at all, or information as to whether the testing chemist was on unpaid leave owing to a failure in his duties. The Sixth Amendment provides a particular guarantee. Courts are not invited to look behind the text for the purpose, and from there to craft something "fair." Further, the report of BAC analysis was "testimonial." It was prepared as part of a duty imposed by law on state chemists to assist with police investigations, and included formalities intended for its introduction as evidence in a criminal case.

CONCURRED: Sotomayor concurs in part

This holding does not control non-testimonial documents, testimony by a person with some personal knowledge of a test, an expert witness, or introduction of machine-generated results.

DISSENT: Kennedy dissents; joined by Roberts, Breyer, and Alito

The Confrontation Clause is intended to ensure a fair trial with reliable evidence, not that every person who conducts routine evidence testing appear in court for the prosecution.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-BULL-NM argued on Mar 2, 2011

International Court not grounds for stay of execution.

Justice Alito joined the Court's decision on HUMBERTO LEAL v. TEXAS on Jul 7, 2011:

Leal, a Mexican citizen residing in the US since age 2, was convicted of murder in Texas and sentenced to death. When arrested, he was newver advised of his Vienna Convention right to contact his consulate. In a case filed by Mexico against the US in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), that court found the US had violated the rights of Leal and other Mexicans by failing to inform them of the Vienna Convention rights.

HELD: Delivered by the Court: SCALIA, THOMAS, ALITO, ROBERTS & KENNEDY

Leal requests a stay of execution to allow Congress time to enact a bill filed in the Senate and supported by the President that would implement the ICJ's view of the Vienna Convention as US law. The Supreme Court would then have jurisdiction to determine Leal's case. Yet this Court has never issued a stay in light of proposed legislation. Further, Congress has not acted though 7 years have passed since the ICJ decision, and 3 since a similar defendant requested a stay of his execution in hopes Congress would act. If this were truly a legislative priority, Congress would have acted. Whatever might be the international consequences, Congress did not see them as sufficiently grave as to prompt it to change the law. Last, the US refused to argue that Leal was prejudiced by the failure to provide Vienna Convention rights. This argument would be the beginning point for the Court to consider a stay.

DISSENT: BREYER dissents; joined by GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR & KAGAN

The President's representative requested that the Court issue a stay of execution. Grave harm to international relations may follow if this death sentence is carried out despite the US failure to heed the ICJ's ruling. Rapid consideration of legislation by Congress is promised. This Court usually gives great deference to the President in foreign relations. A short delay in Leal's 16 year old death sentence will do little harm compared to a violation of US international obligations.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-LEAL argued on Jul 7, 2011

Other Justices on Crime: Samuel Alito on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

Former Justices:
David Souter
Sandra Day O'Connor
William Rehnquist
John Paul Stevens

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Page last updated: Mar 08, 2014