Court affirms grant of sentencing relief (US v. Sampson, 1st Cir.) - July 25, 2013
Posted on: 8/18/2014 03:05:11 PM by Kouros

On July 25, 2013, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of penalty phase relief based on juror misconduct in the capital 2255 case of United States v. Sampson. The court's opinion can be read here.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals affirmed important precedent concerning the non-appealability of district court grants of Section 2255 sentencing relief. In Sampson, the district court had found that a juror's dishonest answers on voir dire evinced bias that would have resulted in her dismissal for cause and on that basis, granted penalty phase relief. Under well-established precedent pursuant to Andrews v. United States, 373 U.S. 334 (1963), a district court's grant of sentencing relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 is not immediately appealable under 18 U.S.C. Section 1291, and as the First Circuit recognized in Sampson, "[f]inality does not attach until the defendant is sentenced anew." (Slip Op. at 10). In so holding, the First Circuit joins the other circuit courts that have held that Andrews applies to capital 2255 cases, United States v. Hammer, 564 F.3d 628 (3rd Cir. 2009) and United States v. Stitt, 459 F.3d 483 (4th Cir. 2006).  

After rejecting the government's alternative jurisdictional theories, the Court of Appeals exercised its advisory mandamus authority to reach the merits of the case. Although the Court of Appeals found the legal theory on which the district court predicated the grant of relief to be flawed, it determined that a straightforward application of McDonough Power Equipment , Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984) to the facts in Sampson's case warranted affirmance of the grant of 2255 relief. In short, the First Circuit held that McDonough requires a simple showing that: (1) a juror failed to answer honestly a material voir dire question; and (2) that a truthful response to the voir dire question would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause. (Slip Op. at 29-30, quoting McDonough, 464 U.S. at 556). The court found that the juror misconduct in Sampson's case met both requirements and affirmed the grant of relief, emphasizing the fundamental importance of an unbiased juror, especially in a capital case. (Slip Op. at 27, 41).