Ninth Circuit Panel Overturns Murder Conviction

And a pretty conservative panel — Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Carlos Bea, and Judge Jerome Farris (a Carter appointee who nonetheless, to my knowledge, has a fairly conservative reputation on criminal justice cases). An excerpt, from Milke v. Ryan (9th Cir. Mar. 14, 2013):

In 1990, a jury convicted Debra Milke of murdering her four-year-old son, Christopher. The judge sentenced her to death. The trial was, essentially, a swearing contest between Milke and Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate, Jr. Saldate testified that Milke, twenty-five at the time, had confessed when he interviewed her shortly after the murder; Milke protested her innocence and denied confessing. There were no other witnesses or direct evidence linking Milke to the crime. The judge and jury believed Saldate, but they didn’t know about Saldate’s long history of lying under oath and other misconduct. The state knew about this misconduct but didn’t disclose it, despite the requirements of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963), and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 153–55 (1972). Some of the misconduct wasn’t disclosed until the case came to federal court and, even today, some evidence relevant to Saldate’s credibility hasn’t been produced, perhaps because it’s been destroyed. In the balance hangs the life of Milke, who has been on Arizona’s death row for twenty-two years.

From Chief Judge Kozinski’s concurrence:

No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone’s life or liberty. The Phoenix Police Department and Saldate’s supervisors there should be ashamed of having given free rein to a lawless cop to misbehave again and again, undermining the integrity of the system of justice they were sworn to uphold. As should the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which continued to prosecute Saldate’s cases without bothering to disclose his pattern of misconduct.

UPDATE: From the last paragraph of the majority opinion:

The clerk of our court shall send copies of this opinion to the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and to the Assistant United States Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, for possible investigation into whether Saldate’s conduct, and that of his supervisors and other state and local officials, amounts to a pattern of violating the federally protected rights of Arizona residents.