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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Stumpf: Triggerman identity

In Bradshaw v. Stumpf, No. 04-637 (June 13, 2005), the Supreme Court held that a defendant entered into a knowing guilty plea, despite the trial court’s failure to explain the specific intent to cause death element of the aggravated murder charge, when the elements of the crime were explained to the defendant by his competent defense counsel, and where the defendant so confirmed on the record.
The Court rejected the argument that Stumpf’s profession of not having been the triggerman was inconsistent with a knowing guilty plea. The Court noted that under Ohio aider and abetter theory, Stumpf could have been guilty of the offense without being the actual triggerman. The Court also rejected the argument that the plea was involuntary because the prosecution later took the inconsistent position that Stumpf was not the triggerman. The Court noted that the precise identity of the triggerman was irrelevant to the conviction.
The Court recognized, however, that the prosecution’s inconsistent position as to whether Stumpf or his accomplice was the triggerman could have affeced his death sentence. The Court pointed out that the Sixth Circuit’s opinion on this subject was ambiguous, because it focused on the validity of the conviction, not of the sentence. The Court therefore remanded the case for further proceedings to address the question of how the prosecutor’s inconsistent position related to the validity of Stumpf’s death sentence.