In just a few weeks the new term for the U.S. Supreme Court will begin, and the High Court has already scheduled oral arguments in three pending death penalty-related cases: Connick v. Thompson, Skinner v. Switzer, and Cullen v. Pinholster.  

1.  Connick v. Thompson comes out of Louisiana.  On October 6, 2010, argument will be heard in part on a $14,000,000 award granted to Mr. John Thompson, finally acquitted of charges for which he had been previously sentenced to death.  Argument will hinge on whether or not the impact of the award exposes prosecutors to vicarious liability in areas of prosecutorial misconduct.

Question Presented: "Whether failure-to-train liability may be imposed on a district attorney’s office for a prosecutor’s deliberate violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), despite no history of similar violations in the office." Go here to read the briefs on file by the parties and the amicus curaie briefing (all in full text). 

2. Skinner v. Switzer is a Texas case that will be heard on October 13, 2010.  Hank Skinner’s case has become somewhat famous at this point — as Mr. Skinner sets on Texas’ death row, he is taking his fight to prove innocence into the civil courts (and out of the criminal system), asserting that he has a right to DNA testing as part of his constitutional civil rights.  

Question presented: "May a convicted prisoner seeking access to biological evidence for DNA testing assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or is such a claim cognizable only in a petition for writ of habeas corpus?"  Go here to read the briefs on file by the parties and the amicus curiae briefing (all in full text). 

3.  Cullen v. Pinholster will be held on November 9, 2010.  This California case delves into the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel in this mental illness case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has already overturned Mr. Pinholster’s death penalty sentence on the failure of his trial counsel to present mitigating evidence of Pinholster’s mental health.

Questions Presented: "1. Whether a federal court may reject a state court adjudication of a petitioner’s claim as “unreasonable” under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and grant habeas corpus relief, based on a factual predicate for the claim that the petitioner could have presented to the state court but did not.

"2. Whether a federal court may grant relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on a claim that trial counsel in a capital case ineffectively failed to produce mitigating evidence of organic brain damage and a difficult childhood because counsel, who consulted with a psychiatrist who disclaimed any such diagnosis, as well as with the defendant and his mother, did not seek out a different psychiatrist and different family members." Go here to read the briefs filed by the parties and amicus curiae filings (all in full text.)