On February 29, 2016, the full U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Williams v. Pennsylvania, reported the National Constitution Center.
In October 2015, Terrance Williams saw the Supreme Court accepted an appeal on Eighth and 14th Amendment ground in an appeals process that goes back to 2012. At the time, Williams’ defense wanted then-Pennsylvania Supreme Court chief justice Ron Castille recused from his appeals case, since Castille had been the Philadelphia district attorney when Williams was convicted in 1986 of murder.
In 2012, Castille voted with four other Pennsylvania supreme court justices, in a unanimous decision, to overturn a lower court state ruling that found Williams should have a new penalty phase in his murder trial and that his execution order should be stayed. Before that ruling, Castille declined to recuse himself from deliberations.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in the Williams case if a judge or a member of a public tribunal should be disqualified – even if that person’s vote in a decision didn’t affect the final outcome- based on a perceived conflict of interest.
Williams’ attorneys are seeking answers from the United States Supreme Court related to two prior decisions. First, in a 2009 decision called Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., the Supreme Court said the West Virginia Supreme Court violated the concept of constitutional due process when a judge who cast a deciding vote had taken $3 million in political contributions from a party in the case.
The attorneys also cited a case from 1986, Aetna Life Insurance v. Lavoie, where an Alabama judge had voted in a health insurance case after he had filed several personal legal actions in insurance cases.
The Williams team is claiming that Castille’s decision to ask for the death penalty for Williams, while he was Philadelphia district attorney, along with Castille’s judicial role in considering allegations of misconduct of his prior district attorney’s office, are key factors in the appeal.