Supreme Court Hearing 9th Circuit Conviction Reversals


Jim Studer wore a button with a photo of his brother, Tom, at the trial of Tom’s accused killer, Mathew Musladin, in San Jose, Ca. The 26-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit includes some liberal judges, says the Los Angeles Times. Musladin’s case came before two of them: Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles and Marsha S. Berzon of San Francisco. In a 2-1 ruling, the judges reversed Musladin’s conviction, saying that the buttons worn by Studer’s family deprived Musladin of a fair trial. “The buttons essentially ‘argue’ that Studer was the innocent party and that the defendant was necessarily guilty,” Reinhardt said.

That was not the view of the trial judge or the California state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a prosecution petition to hear the case; arguments are scheduled for Oct. 11. It is one of two Reinhardt opinions that the justices will consider in the first days of their new term. The second reversed a 1982 death sentence for Fernando Belmontes, who was convicted of breaking into the home of a 21-year-old woman and beating her to death with a metal dumbbell. Twenty-one years after the jury sentenced Belmontes to die, his federal appeal came before a three-judge panel that included Reinhardt. In a 2-1 decision, they reversed the death sentence on the grounds that jurors might not have taken into account “the defendant’s potential for a positive adjustment to life in prison.”


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