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Law School Case Brief

Fortini v. Murphy - 257 F.3d 39 (1st Cir. 2001)

Rule:

Although Chambers unquestionably remains the law, the United States Supreme Court has rarely used it to overturn convictions and in recent years has made clear that it can be invoked only in extreme cases. Most recently, a majority of the Court said that a state law justification for exclusion will prevail unless it is arbitrary or disproportionate and infringes upon a weighty interest of the accused.

Facts:

Petitioner killed an individual on his porch with a shotgun at about 1:15 A.M. He argued self defense. In support of this theory, he filed a motion asking to introduce evidence of the victim's acts only five to seven minutes before he was killed. The evidence was excluded. The district court dismissed petitioner's habeas corpus petition on the grounds that he had not exhausted state remedies. On appeal, petitioner argued that the district court erred in finding that he had not properly presented his constitutional claim related to the exclusion in state court, and that the exclusion denied him due process under Chambers, and had a likely effect on the jury's verdict. The court concluded that the state had itself waived any objection to the habeas petition based on failure to raise the constitutional issue at trial. As to the merits, the court concluded that the exclusion of evidence in question did not rise to the level of a Chambers violation. Even if exclusion were a constitutional error, the court would find the error to be harmless. Legitimate use of the evidence would, in the court's view, have had only a very small likelihood of altering the result.

Issue:

Does the exclusion of indirect evidence that merely supports a direct piece of evidence amount to a violation of due process?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The exclusion of indirect evidence that merely supports a direct piece of evidence does not amount to a violation of due process. The evidence of Monterio’s basketball court incident was relevant to Monterio’s state of mind. The state court provided no valid justification for the exclusion of this evidence. Despite this error, however it cannot be said that Fortini was denied due process. In this case Fortini had offered direct evidence that Monterio lunged at him so the basketball fiasco was indirect evidence at best. The exclusion of this evidence thus does not rise to the level of fundamental unfairness warranting a federal court to find a violation of due process.

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