Newly confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson issued her first Supreme Court opinion this week, a brief dissent in support of an Ohio death row inmate. In a two-page order, she disagreed with the full Court’s decision not to take up an appeal brought by Davel Chinn, who shot and killed a man during an attempted robbery in 1989.
Chinn’s lawyers argued that prosecutors withheld evidence that a key witness, Marvin Washington, was severely mentally disabled, with an IQ of 48. The witness had identified Chinn as the shooter.
While prosecutors are required to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense, in this case, the lower courts determined that the outcome would not have been affected if the witness’ records had been provided to Chinn’s lawyers.
In her dissent, Jackson wrote that she would have ordered a new look at Chinn’s case “because his life is on the line and given the substantial likelihood that the suppressed records would have changed the outcome at trial.” She argued that Chinn’s intellectual disability likely affected his memory and ability to testify accurately.
In an email to LawandCrime.com, Chinn’s attorney wrote: “Justices Jackson and Sotomayor recognized the injustice in upholding Davel Chinn’s conviction and death sentence when the State suppressed exculpatory evidence that, based on the Ohio Courts’ own representations, was likely to result in an acquittal…. Ohio must not exacerbate the mistakes of the past by pursuing Mr. Chinn’s execution.”
Fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only other member of the Court to join in Justice Jackson’s dissent. Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, joined the bench on June 30, following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.
The case was No. 22–5058, Davel Chinn v. Tim Shoop, Warden — an in forma pauperis filing by the Ohio Public Defender.
The questions presented were:
- Whether a petitioner who raises a claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), must establish that they were more likely than not prejudiced by the government’s suppression of favorable evidence; and
- Whether the judgment of the Sixth Circuit requiring the petitioner in this case to establish that he was more likely than not prejudiced by the government’s suppression of favorable evidence should be summarily reversed.