Jenner & Block

Partner Michael DeSanctis Argues Before U.S. Supreme Court On Behalf Of Intellectually Disabled Person On Death Row

On March 30, 2015, Jenner & Block Partner Michael B. DeSanctis argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of petitioner Kevan Brumfield in Brumfield v. Cain.  The main issue before the Court is whether it was unreasonable for a Louisiana state court to deny Mr. Brumfield a hearing to prove his intellectual disability.  

Mr. Brumfield was tried and sentenced to death before Atkins v. Virginia, a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court recognized for the first time that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who is intellectually disabled.  After Atkins, Mr. Brumfield filed a petition in Louisiana state court and sought funding and a hearing to prove his intellectual disability.  The court denied him both, and instead relied on his pre-Atkins trial record to reject his claim.  Mr. Brumfield then sought habeas relief in federal district court.  After a seven-day hearing with testimony from multiple experts specifically trained in diagnosing intellectual disability, a federal judge found that Mr. Brumfield is, in fact, intellectually disabled and granted him relief from execution.  The Fifth Circuit overturned that decision, holding that the district court should have never given Mr. Brumfield a hearing and should have instead deferred to the state court’s decision.  The  Supreme Court will decide whether the state court acted unreasonably by denying Mr. Brumfield a hearing. 

Several media outlets reported on the case.  An AFP feed that appeared in several publications quoted Mr. DeSanctis as urging the Court to find the state court’s determination unreasonable because it had “overwhelming evidence of impairment.”  It also quoted Associate Amir H. Ali, who was a key member of the firm’s team on the case and provided a potential high-level outlook on the case:  “If the state court does not give adequate process by denying hearing and funding, you’ve been unreasonable and you’re not entitled to deference.” Other articles on the arguments before the Court appeared in MSNBCThe Washington Post, The National Law Journal (subscription required), The New York Times, The Guardian, Slate and others, and the case was referenced in an op-ed piece examining the Supreme Court’s handling of recent capital punishment cases before it in the April 1 The New York Times.  In addition to Mr. DeSanctis and Mr. Ali, the team representing Mr. Brumfield includes Partner Adam G. Unikowsky and Associates R. Trent McCotter, Esteban M. Morin, Leah J. Tulin, David A. Wishnick and Jan E. Messerschmidt, with critical assistance throughout provided by Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson, Legal Secretary Patricia Bryant and Legal Secretary Coordinator Curlene B. Wellington.