Ninth Retries Facts to Spring Grandma

Federal appeals courts usually give state courts a lot of deference when it comes to the facts. But in a “most unusual case,� the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today (politely) took California’s Second District Court of Appeal to task for upholding a conviction based on scanty evidence.

Shirley Ree Smith was sentenced to 15 years to life after a Los Angeles jury essentially found her guilty of fatally shaking her baby grandson, and the Second District upheld her conviction.

Ninth Circuit Judge William Canby Jr., writing for a unanimous panel, called the case a probable miscarriage of justice.

Canby acknowledged that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, or AEDPA, constrains federal habeas review of state convictions. Then the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, puts the question thus: When the evidence is examined in a light most favorable to prosecutors, could anyone rational arrive at guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?

In this case, no. “With all due respect,� the Court of Appeal applied Jackson unreasonably, Canby wrote in Smith v. Mitchell. So the Ninth Circuit directed the lower court to grant a writ of habeas corpus.

With none of the typical signs of shaken baby syndrome, and a prosecution theory that suggested the baby had died of an undetectable tear in his brain stem, “There was simply no demonstrable support for shaking as the cause of death.�

— Pam Smith


One Response to “Ninth Retries Facts to Spring Grandma”

  1. Peggy Raheem Says:

    Shirley Ree Smith’s decision was reversed in Feb. of 2006 – why is she still incarcerated with no release date?

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