- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Defendants in capital murder cases do not have a constitutional right to use alibi evidence when they are sentenced by juries, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

In an 8-0 ruling, the justices said the Oregon Supreme Court was wrong when it extended the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to allow defendants to present evidence of “residual doubt” to juries that already had found them guilty.

Also yesterday, the court ruled that the U.S. Postal Service could be sued by a woman who tripped over mail and that a pizza chain could not be sued for racial discrimination by a businessman whose company had a contract with the chain.

In the case of alibi evidence, the United States has the authority to “set reasonable limits” on the evidence that defendants can present at trial “and the manner in which it is submitted,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote.

“We can find nothing in the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments that provides a capital defendant with a right to introduce new evidence of this kind at sentencing,” Justice Breyer wrote.

Randy Lee Guzek was convicted by an Oregon jury for the June 1987 murders of Rod and Lois Houser, the uncle and aunt of his former high school girlfriend.

His murder convictions were upheld by the state’s highest court. But changes in Oregon law and mistakes by the trial judge led the Oregon Supreme Court to overturn his death sentence three times.

In the Postal Service case, the 7-1 decision revived a Pennsylvania woman’s claim that she was entitled to damages after suffering wrist and back injuries during the 2001 fall at her home in suburban Philadelphia. The letters, packages and periodicals were put on Barbara Dolan’s porch instead of in her mailbox.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, dismissed government concerns of costly litigation.

“The government raises the specter of frivolous slip-and-fall claims inundating the Postal Service,” he wrote. “Slip-and-fall liability, however … is a risk shared by any business that makes home deliveries.”

In the racial-discrimination case, the court ruled that Domino’s Pizza could not be sued for racial discrimination by a businessman whose company had a contract with the chain.

The court, in an 8-0 decision, said that because the contract was with John McDonald’s company, not Mr. McDonald personally, he could not bring an individual civil-rights claim.

To rule otherwise, Justice Antonin Scalia said in the opinion, would open companies to unlimited lawsuits under an 1866 civil rights law that protects equal rights in contracting.

“Plaintiffs must identify injuries flowing from a racially motivated breach of their own contractual relationship, not of someone else’s,” Justice Scalia wrote.

Domino’s had contracted with Mr. McDonald’s company to build four pizza franchises in the Las Vegas area. Mr. McDonald said the company failed to honor the contracts because he is black. Domino’s attorneys deny that racial discrimination was involved.

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