KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against a Michigan murder convict who said his civil rights were violated when he was shackled during his trial.
The 6-3 decision was released by the court Thursday. It means Ervine Davenport’s conviction for the 2007 murder of Annette White in Kalamazoo stands.
Davenport’s legal team asserted that his civil rights were violated because the jury could see him shackled, which could have created a presumption of guilt. While state courts agreed the jury should not have seen Davenport shackled, they also said it had no effect on the verdict. The state said the evidence against Davenport meant he would have been convicted anyway.
In 2020, a federal appeals court ruled to set aside his conviction. The Supreme Court heard the case in October of last year. It was asked to decide whether a federal court could set aside a conviction based on its own assessment of whether the jury’s perception was prejudiced or whether it must consider the state’s evaluation.
Justices ultimately decided the state court’s assessment must be taken into account.
“When a state court has ruled on the merits of a state prisoner’s claim, a federal court cannot grant relief without first applying both the test this Court outlined” in a 1993 case and the requirements of a 1996 law, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s ruling.
In the dissent opinion, Justice Elena Kagan argued that requiring federal courts to consider both the 1993 precedent and the 1996 law is “pointless,” saying “that extra analysis will never lead to a different result.”
“When our states are making these decisions, this is direction to the federal courts in terms of how to asses these cases, but it’s also confidence to the state courts that when they are spending the time, when we are spending resources, taxpayer dollars, countless hours in trying these cases and then reviewing these cases, that you know what, our state courts and our judges’ decisions matter,” Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, told reporters Thursday.
She said the matter has been confusing for prosecutors and judges across the country and the Supreme Court’s decision provides clarity.
“This very issue has been important not just here in Michigan, but really across the nation,” she said.
Hammoud was the first Arab American Muslim woman to argue before the highest court in the land.
“I remain deeply honored that the State and the Attorney General entrusted me with this argument, and I am humbled by the Justices’ decision,” she said in a statement.
“Solicitor General Hammoud remains a critical and effective advocate for our state’s residents and I’m so proud of this victory before SCOTUS,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “Not only does this decision uphold the valid conviction of a murderer and achieve justice for his victims, it also assures that in future cases, our courts’ decisions will be afforded the respect they are entitled to under the law. Congress has forbidden federal courts from substituting their own judgment for the reasonable decisions made by state judges, and this decision reinforces that standard.”
Davenport, now 57, is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
—News 8’s Luke Laster contributed to this report.