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Supreme Court hears jury instruction cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call] Wednesday in two cases, including Waddington v. Sarausad [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-772, in which the Court will consider whether a ruling [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit correctly overturned the murder conviction of a driver in a 1994 Seattle drive-by shooting on the grounds of incorrect jury instructions on accomplice liability. Appearing on behalf of the petitioner during Wednesday's arguments [transcript, PDF], Washington State Deputy Solicitor General William B. Collins noted that the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [PDF text] provides a deferential standard of review and urged the Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit because "the Washington court's adjudication of this matter was not objectively unreasonable." Jeffrey Fisher, arguing on behalf of the respondent, said the "extraordinary record" in the case demonstrates that the Washington Court of Appeals "could not have reasonably concluded that there was a reasonable likelihood the jury understood the charge in this case."

In the second case argued [transcript, PDF] Wednesday, Hedgpeth v. Pulido [Cornell LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-544, the Court will review another ruling [PDF text] by the Ninth Circuit. The question presented is whether that court "fail[ed] to conform to 'clearly established' Supreme Court law ... when it granted habeas corpus relief by deeming an erroneous instruction on one of two alternative theories of guilt to be 'structural error' requiring reversal because the jury might have relied on it[.]"

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