The Supreme Court handed down a tasty opinion [PDF] today. The issues at hand though make for an odd coupling: the death penalty and chocolate genitalia.
In 1993, Marcus Wellons was convicted of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. The jury sentenced him to death.
Apparently the case was a bonding experience for the Georgia judge and jurors. According to the SCOTUS per curiam opinion:
Only after the trial did defense counsel learn that there had been unreported ex parte contacts between the jury and the judge, that jurors and a bailiff had planned a reunion, and that “either during or immediately following the penalty phase, some jury members gave the trial judge chocolate shaped as male genitalia and the bailiff chocolate shaped as female breasts.”
It’s unclear why the jurors gave a chocolate penis and breasts to the judge and bailiff, but the high court is asking the 11th Circuit to reexamine the case as the gifts “raise serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial.”
Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts dissented, apparently feeling nothing raised….
From the ABA Journal:
In his dissent, Scalia said the 11th Circuit decision rested on an independent ground, so reconsideration will not affect the ultimate outcome of the litigation. The GVR [grant / vacate / remand] “disrespects the judges of the Courts of Appeals, who are appointed and confirmed as we are, to vacate and send back their authorized judgments for inconsequential imperfection of opinion–as though we were schoolmasters grading their homework,” Scalia wrote.
Listen up, teachers. That actually seems like a nice simple description of what the Supreme Court does.
Alito and Roberts dissented separately. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, also dissented, saying the 11th Circuit already considered the issue and had allowed Wellons’ lawyers to contact all the jurors and relevant court personnel. Alito did say, however, he agreed with the majority that “the strange and tasteless gifts that were given to the trial judge and the bailiff are facially troubling.”
Facially? That depends on where the chocolate ended up.
Supreme Court Vacates Conviction, Cites Jurors’ Chocolate Penis Gift [ABA Journal]
Georgia death-row inmate may need hearing over bawdy gifts, high court rules [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Chocolate Sex Gifts From Jury Put Guilty Verdict in Jeopardy [Bloomberg]