Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson publishes first Supreme Court opinion in Ohio death row case

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Washington — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday published her first written opinion since joining the Supreme Court, dissenting from the court’s refusal to hear a case involving an Ohio man on death row.

In a short, two-page dissent joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Jackson wrote that she would have tossed out a lower court decision denying relief to Davel Chinn, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering a man in early 1989.

Chinn’s lawyers argued the state suppressed evidence during his trial showing that its primary witness, Marvin Washington, had an intellectual disability that led to substantial memory problems and affected his ability to distinguish between reality and things he imagined. Washington, who was 15 years old at the time, admitted his involvement in the fatal shooting of Brian Jones, according to court filings, and provided officers with a description of Chinn.

The man’s lawyers, however, argued the information about Washington would have made a difference in the outcome of Chinn’s case.

“Without Marvin Washington, that state’s evidence was not strong enough to sustain confidence in either Chinn’s conviction or death sentenced,” lawyers with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office told the Supreme Court.

In her dissent, Jackson wrote that “because Chinn’s life is on the line, and given the substantial likelihood that the suppressed record would have changed the outcome at trial based on the Ohio courts’ own representations,” she would have ordered additional proceedings in the case. 

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