Ivey v. United States
|Amicus Brief Writers||Andy Banzhoff|
Mr. Ivey was first tried in a capital murder case in state court in 2014, with the trial resulting in a hung jury. He was later tried on federal charges (Hobbs Act Robbery and use of firearm in furtherance of a crime resulting in death), convicted and sentenced to 240 months and a life sentence, to run consecutively. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that the trial court committed three separate evidentiary errors. The appellate court found these errors to be harmless, citing the “overwhelming evidence of Appellant’s involvement in the incident.”
NCAJ filed an amicus brief in support of Defendant’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari. Supreme Court precedent dictates that the harmless error analysis requires a court to find beyond a reasonable doubt that an error did not contribute to the verdict before said error can be deemed harmless. This analysis does not require courts to re-weigh the evidence and determine whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, but instead requires them to determine whether the improperly admitted evidence affected the verdict. There is a split among federal courts. Some find harmless error only where it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not influence the verdict, while others follow a guilt-based model, determining whether the evidence – minus the errors – would support a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. The brief asks the Supreme Court to accept the case to bring the Fourth Circuit and other courts in line with prior Supreme Court law. In addition, the brief emphasizes that Mr. Ivey’s case is a close case in which it would be improper to conclude that the errors in question did not affect the verdict. Not only did a prior state court trial result in a hung jury, but there was no evidence directly tying the Defendant to the crime scene other than the improperly admitted evidence.