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The U.S. Supreme Court on June 13 rendered the following decisions: The justices unanimously upheld Ohio’s new policy for determining when especially dangerous inmates can be transferred to a maximum security prison in Youngstown, but at the same time the justices expressed concerns about the harsh conditions there. Wilkinson v. Austin, No. 04-495. About 30 states and the federal government have the high-security prisons, which are intended to separate the most dangerous prisoners from other inmates. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court, said that inmates are entitled to a process to avoid assignment to the Ohio facility where prisoners “are deprived of almost any environmental or sensory stimuli and of almost all human contact.” The decision frees Ohio from a court order under which prisoners could call witnesses to contest their transfer to the maximum-security facility. Kennedy said that letting inmates call witnesses in their defense could undermine prison security and lead to reprisals against prisoners who testified. Under Ohio’s new policy, inmates are told why they are being transferred to the maximum-security prison, and have a chance to defend themselves at a hearing. The justices unanimously returned a death-penalty case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether inconsistent arguments by prosecutors about the identity of the triggerman violated a defendant’s constitutional rights. Bradshaw v. Stumpf, No. 04-637. Last year, the 6th Circuit set aside John D. Stumpf’s conviction for the 1984 slaying of an Ohio woman during a robbery in New Concord, Ohio, and ordered a new trial. The court said that Stumpf hadn’t been fully informed by prosecutors that he could face the death penalty by pleading guilty. The court also said that it was improper for prosecutors to argue that Stumpf shot the victim, Mary Jane Stout, but at a separate trial to contend that Stumpf’s companion, Clyde Wesley, was the triggerman. Wesley was convicted by a jury and is serving a life sentence. Stumpf, who had maintained Wesley was the shooter, was sentenced to death. After Wesley’s trial, Stumpf attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, but his request was denied. The justices said that the circuit court was wrong to conclude that Stumpf’s conviction should be voided because of prosecutorial inconsistencies. The justices said that the identity of the triggerman had no bearing on Stumpf’s conviction because Ohio law considers aiders and abettors equally if their actions are made with the intent to cause death. However, the high court said that the shooter’s identity may have affected the severity of Stumpf’s sentence. The justices said that the 6th Circuit should review the prosecution’s statements in the two cases to determine whether Stumpf’s sentence was proper. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote on behalf of the court. The justices ruled unanimously that U.S. Tax Code issues are important enough to enable a federal court to decide a state property case involving the issue of whether land had been properly seized and sold at auction by the Internal Revenue Service. Grable & Sons Metal Products Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., No. 04-603. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing Inc. wants a federal court to hear a lawsuit brought against it in Michigan state court by Grable & Sons Metal Products Inc. Grable claims that it owns land that Darue bought at an Internal Revenue Service auction because federal tax collectors had failed to give proper notice that they were seizing the property. Grable wants to keep the case in a Michigan court. Writing on behalf of the court, Justice David H. Souter said, “Whether Grable was given notice within the meaning of the federal statute is . . . an essential element of its . . . claim, and the meaning of the federal statute is actually in dispute; it appears to be the only legal or factual issue contested in the case . . . .The meaning of the federal tax provision is an important issue of federal law that sensibly belongs in a federal court.” The justices’ unanimous ruling that drug companies have freedom under Food and Drug Administration rules to ignore their rivals’ patents when starting research on competing medications is discussed on Page 1. Merck v. Integra Lifesciences, No. 03-1237. The justices’ 6-3 overturning of a black death-row inmate’s conviction on the ground that Texas prosecutors had unfairly stacked the trial jury with whites, and the justices’ 8-1 ruling that California’s courts had made it too hard for defendants to claim racial bias in jury selection, are discussed on Page 6. Miller-El v. Dretke, No. 03-9659; and Johnson v. California, No. 04-6964.

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