Justices will take a closer look at a capital conviction that prosecutors no longer support


sketch of numerous cameras lined up outside the supreme court

The Relist Watch column examines cert petitions that the Supreme Court has “relisted” for its upcoming conference. A short explanation of relists is available here.

It was a big week for relists: On Friday, the court granted all four of last week’s new relists. And on Monday, the court denied review in five of the returning relists, four of them with justices filing opinions dissenting from the denial of review. Most noteworthy here: In Buffington v. McDonough, a case that asked the Supreme Court to overrule Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered what may be his most full-throated criticism of Chevron deference to date, observing that strong-form deference has “fallen into desuetude.” And in Chinn v. Shoop, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson filed her first-ever opinion since her elevation, writing that the Ohio Supreme Court had applied too stringent a standard of materiality in reviewing death-row prisoner Davel Chinn’s claim that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence.

There is one new relist this week: Escobar v. Texas. It’s an unusual criminal petition in that the prosecution also thinks the defendant’s conviction should be reversed.

Petitioner Areli Carbajal Escobar was convicted of capital murder in Texas state court based on false DNA evidence and sentenced to death. After Escobar’s conviction, the state of Texas discovered serious problems in the laboratory that conducted the DNA test, ultimately closing the facility altogether. On Escobar’s application for habeas relief, the state habeas court found that the DNA evidence used to convict him was false, misleading, unreliable, and material to his conviction. Thus, the court recommended that relief be granted on Escobar’s federal due process claim. Although the state initially opposed habeas relief, it changed its position when the case reached the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; it agreed that Escobar’s federal due process rights had been violated and that he was entitled to have his capital conviction overturned. The Court of Criminal Appeals nonetheless denied relief, holding that Escobar’s federal due process rights were not violated because he had failed to show any reasonable likelihood that the false DNA evidence could have affected the jury’s judgment. The Court of Criminal Appeals did not acknowledge the state’s contrary view.

Before the Supreme Court, Escobar contends that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming his sentence based on its conclusion that there is no reasonable likelihood that the false DNA evidence could have affected the judgment of the jury. He argues that its judgment violates constitutional due process. The state of Texas (in the form of the Travis County District Attorney) supports the petition, ending its brief by stating, “the State agrees with Petitioner that this Court should summarily reverse the [Court of Criminal Appeals’] ruling or, alternatively, grant the petition and set this case for argument.”

Until next time, stay safe!

New Relist

Escobar v. Texas, 21-1601
Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to SCOTUSblog in various capacities, is among the counsel to petitioner in this case.
Issue: Whether the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals erred in holding that the prosecution’s reliance on admittedly false DNA evidence to secure petitioner’s conviction and death sentence is consistent with the due process clause of the 5th Amendment because there is no reasonable likelihood that the false DNA evidence could have affected the judgment of the jury.
(relisted after the Nov. 4 conference)

Returning Relists

Shoop v. Cunningham, 21-1587
Issues: (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit erred by granting habeas relief based on an alleged misapplication of its own circuit precedent under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which generally prohibits courts from awarding habeas relief to state prisoners but lifts that prohibition with respect to prisoners in custody because of a state-court ruling that was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States”; and (2) whether, when the requirements for a federal evidentiary hearing are otherwise satisfied but Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b)(1) forbids considering the only evidence supporting an evidentiary hearing, a court must hold the hearing regardless.
(relisted after the Sept. 28, Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4 conferences)

Dubin v. United States, 22-10
Issue: Whether a person commits aggravated identity theft any time they mention or otherwise recite someone else’s name while committing a predicate offense.
(relisted after the Oct. 14, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4 conferences)

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