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The 'Mumia Exception' - Explaining Injustice

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Two inmates on Pennsylvania's death row raise the same issue on appeal blatant misconduct by prosecutors and police yet Pa's Supreme Court issues different rulings in these respective cases.

The Pa Supreme Court released Jay C. Smith directly from his death row cell, ruling the misconduct by prosecutors and police so "egregious" that retrying Smith for murdering a school teacher and her two children would violate fair trial protections in Pa's state Constitution.

However, in appeals from convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, Pa's highest court repeatedly rejects solid evidence of wrongdoing by prosecutors and police despite that misconduct being more extensive than misconduct in Smith'scase.

Why, people wonder worldwide, does Mumia Abu-Jamal remain imprisoned when mounds of evidence unearthed since his 1982 trial undermine all aspects of the controversial conviction that sent this acclaimed journalist to death row?

The answer to this justice denying/logic defying question is simple: "The Mumia Exception."

This "Mumia Exception" is the phrase devised to describe the practice repeatedly employed by state and federal courts to strip Abu-Jamal of the same legal relief those courts extend to other inmates raising the same legal issue when challenging violations of their legal rights.

Jurists bending and/or breaking the bedrock American legal principal of equal justice under the law is the driving dynamic of "The Mumia Exception."

This "Exception" explains how Pa's Supreme Court in the Smith case castigated authorities for illegally withholding evidence crucial to the high school principal's defense while that court constantly refuses to criticize any of the misconduct that crippled Abu-Jamal's defense.

The fact that courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have consistently upheld the conviction of the world's most recognized death row denizen is a key argument advanced by persons backing Abu-Jamal's execution when countering claims of his innocence.

Execution advocates reject "The Mumia Exception" as the reason why courts uphold Abu-Jamal's conviction despite the fact that dismissing the role of the "Exception" requires embracing scenarios that defy statistics and common sense.

For example, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania appellate courts overturned 86 Philadelphia death penalty convictions between Abu-Jamal's December 1981 arrest and October 2009 after finding various errors by prosecutors, police, defense attorneys and even judges including the judge at Abu-Jamal's trial.

Yet, those same courts declare that not a single error evidentiary or procedural exists anywhere in the contentious Abu-Jamal case a statistically improbable circumstance.

Pa and federal courts have even brushed aside credible evidence that on the eve of Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial the presiding judge, Albert Sabo, declared he would help prosecutors "fry the n-word" an odious admission oozing racial bigotry and lack of impartiality clearly violating Abu-Jamal's constitutionally guaranteed fair trial rights.

The twin pillars of this "Mumia Exception" are: courts refusing to apply their established legal rulings (precedent) to Abu-Jamal's appeals; and/or courts creating new legal standards to sabotage Abu-Jamal's appeals.

One easily understood example of the failure-to-follow-precedent prong of "The Mumia Exception" involves state and federal appellate courts in Pennsylvania dismissing 22 death sentences because of failures by defense lawyers to present any mitigating evidence for their clients during death penalty hearings.

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Linn Washington Jr. is a veteran investigative journalist who writes regularly on issues involving the criminal justice system, the news media, race-&-racism, constitutional rights and the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. He is passionate about examining (more...)
 

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The 'Mumia Exception' - Explaining Injustice

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