Observations and analysis of Linn Washington Jr. on the federal Third Circuit ruling in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case issued on March 27, 2008. Washington, is a journalist and university professor in Philadelphia who has written extensively about the contentious case since Abu-Jamal’s arrest in December 1981.
The long awaited ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case released on March 27, 2008 again displays the dismaying pattern of US courts ignoring precedent to deny relief to this death row journalist whose plight generates international support.
Precedent in American law means courts following previous court rulings when determining specific legal issues.
Precedent is the bedrock of American law.
America law requires courts to follow precedent unless significant evidence and/or compelling rationales necessitate changing precedent.
This Third Circuit ruling changes precedent. This ruling changes precedent by applying legal procedures in a highly questionable manner to dismiss compelling evidence of injustice against Abu-Jamal.
The Third Circuit did uphold the elimination of Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. This is no victory because the ruling upheld his conviction thus condemning Abu-Jamal to life in prison.
This ruling refused to grant Abu-Jamal a new hearing or new trial on three compelling issues: prosecutors using racism to exclude African Americans from the jury during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial; the prosecutor making improper comments to that ’82 jury at the end of the trial; and pro-prosecution bias by the ’82 trial judge during a 1995 appeals hearing.
The Third Circuit previously granted relief to persons convicted of murder in Philadelphia after ruling that Philadelphia prosecutors had illegally excluded African Americans from juries.
However, in this Abu-Jamal case ruling, the court found no fault in evidence of exclusion of African Americans from the jury in his 1982 trial.
Curiously, the evidence of exclusion at Abu-Jamal’s trial is of equal or greater magnitude than proof of exclusion previously found acceptable for relief by the Third Circuit.
These previous rulings on jury discrimination formed the precedent on that issue for the Third Circuit.
That precedent stated it is wrong for prosecutors to discriminate against even one black potential juror. Additionally, that precedent stated defendants did not have to object to jury selection discrimination by prosecutors immediately when it occurred.
Yet, this ruling reversed precedent on those two points of legal procedure.
A week before this Abu-Jamal ruling, the US Supreme Court granted relief to a death row inmate in Louisiana because of a discriminatory jury selection process. That Supreme Court ruling was written by a Justice on that court who formerly served on the Third Circuit.