__ U.S. __, 18-9517, Isom v. Arkansas

Docket Nº:18-9517
Citation:__ U.S. __, 140 S.Ct. 342
Party Name:Kenneth R. ISOM v. ARKANSAS
Judge Panel:Statement of Justice SOTOMAYOR respecting the denial of certiorari.
Case Date:November 25, 2019
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page __

__ U.S. __

140 S.Ct. 342

Kenneth R. ISOM

v.

ARKANSAS

No. 18-9517

United States Supreme Court

November 25, 2019

OPINION

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Statement of Justice SOTOMAYOR respecting the denial of certiorari.

[140 S.Ct. 343] Petitioner Kenneth Isom was thrice charged with burglary and theft offenses by Drew County, Arkansas, prosecutor Sam Pope. Isom was acquitted on two of those occasions, but was convicted on the third. After Isom was granted parole three years into his sentence, Prosecutor Pope met with the Office of the Governor to express his concern and to inquire whether Isom could somehow be returned to prison, but to no avail.

Seven years later, a jury convicted Isom of capital murder in a case presided over by Pope himself— now a Drew County judge. Isom sought postconviction relief, which was denied, also by Judge Pope. The Arkansas Supreme Court later granted Isom leave to file a writ of coram nobis to challenge the State’s suppression of critical evidence under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). That suppressed evidence pertained to, among other things, a suggestive photo identification and the inconsistent testimony of a state witness.

Again, Judge Pope presided. Isom filed a recusal motion, alleging that Pope’s prior efforts to prosecute Isom (and to rescind his parole) created, at the very least, an appearance of bias requiring recusal under the Due Process Clause. Judge Pope denied the motion. After crediting testimony that supported his original photo-identification ruling, and after limiting discovery relevant to the inconsistent-testimony issue, Judge Pope also denied coram nobis relief.

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. 2018 Ark. 368, 563 S.W.3d 533. Justices Hart and Wood dissented, concluding that there was at least an appearance of bias that required recusal. Justice Hart reasoned that the unusual coram nobis posture presented an especially compelling case for recusal, because Judge Pope was in the "untenable position" of evaluating his own prior findings about whether the photo identification should have been suppressed. Id., at...

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