On Friday, January 21, 2011, Troy Davis’ lawyers filed an appeal and a cert. petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeals are available via ScotusBlog here and here. These two documents challenge the ruling of a federal district court in Savannah, Georgia that Davis did not meet an extraordinarily high standard required to prove his innocence. The federal district court held an evidentiary hearing, ordered by the Supreme Court, on Davis’ innocence claim in June, 2010 and ruled against him in September, thus denying Davis relief from his death sentence.
What is Davis arguing in his appeal?
First, Davis believes he ought to be able to appeal the district court’s ruling to the 11th circuit federal court (the court above the district court and below the Supreme Court). Davis holds that his case is clearly quite consequential as it involves an actual innocence claim and major, unresolved legal questions that could impact future cases; therefore, it is important that the case have access to full federal appellate review, including that of the intermediate court – the 11th Circuit.
And second, Davis asserts that the district court did not use the right standard to judge his innocence claim in light of standards used in other relevant Supreme Court cases, which used a “reasonable juror” standard. He also argues that more weight should have been given to new eyewitness testimony against the alternative suspect; to the testimony of three witnesses concerning the alternative suspect’s confessions; to the affidavits of witnesses who did not testify at the hearing; and to new analysis of the ballistics evidence that undermines the state’s theory of Davis’ motive. Davis asserts that a “reasonable juror”, given the totality of the evidence presented, could not have concluded that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The state of Georgia has until February 24 to file a response to the documents. Then the Supreme Court could either order the 11th Circuit to take the appeal, or it could review the case directly. Or it could close the door on the case altogether, putting Davis at imminent risk of an execution date. It is abundantly clear that the June, 2010 hearing did not settle the doubts in the Davis case and instead served only to illuminate them. To prevent Davis from facing execution, supporters should continue to educate people about the case and ask people to sign the petition and sign-on letters. Additionally, people can use the Death Penalty Action Weeks (February 21 – March 6) and March 1 Abolition Day as an opportunity to organize various activities on behalf of Davis and other emblematic cases.