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Federal Appeals Court Evaluating Oklahoma Cases

13-May-2013

In state criminal cases, the first course of appeal is with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. However, there is an appellate court that serves as an intermediary between the state district courts and the nation's highest court, the United States Supreme Court. The First through Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal are the courts of appellate review for cases tried in the district courts of geographic region over which they have jurisdiction. Cases tried in Oklahoma district courts are reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Denver, Colorado, and it serves six states, including Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, and portions of Yellowstone National Park.

Currently, the 10th Circuit Court is reviewing at least two appeals out of Oklahoma, one involving a 1994 Edmond murder case, and the other involving a 2004 Seminole County murder case.

In the first case, appellate lawyers for death-row inmate Rocky Dodd say that he did not receive a fair trial because an Oklahoma County District Court judge did not allow his defense attorneys to submit evidence that someone else committed the murders with which he was charged. Dodd was convicted of the murders of his next-door neighbors, Keri Jean Sloniker, 19, and Shane McInturff, 20. Prosecutors alleged that Dodd slit the throats of McInturff and his girlfriend after McInturff accused Dodd of stealing his drugs. The court is asked to decide whether or not Oklahoma County District Judge Twyla Mason Gray unfairly excluded defense evidence that could have implicated someone else in the death. Dodd's attorneys say he was convicted on circumstantial evidence and his trial was unfair because defense evidence was disallowed and because victim-impact statements at the penalty phase of the trial were prejudicial.

In the second case, the 10th Circuit Court is reviewing the conviction of a man accused of three murders in Seminole County. David Magnan pleaded guilty to the murders of Lucilla McGirt, Karen Wolf, and James Howard, and he was sentenced to death by the Seminole County District Court. However, his appeals lawyer says that his conviction and sentence should be overturned because the state court had no jurisdiction over the case. Mangan's attorney says that the crimes were committed on Indian land, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Prosecutors dispute that the crime scene was on Indian land, but the Seminole Nation supports the position of the appellant.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is hearing the appeal of Roderick Lynn Smith, convicted of killing his wife and her four children. Smith was sentenced to death for the 1993 murders, but Smith's appellate attorney argues that the jury did not consider evidence of his client's mental retardation when it levied the death sentence. According to the United States Supreme Court, mentally retarded defendants are ineligible for the death penalty.

When mistakes are made in a criminal case, the appeals process is designed to rectify any errors or misconduct that affected a defendant's right to a fair trial. A conviction is not the ultimate end of a case; a criminal appeals lawyer can represent the defendant in his or her quest for post-conviction relief.




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