By Matthew Vadum
June 25, 2023
Updated: June 26, 2023
The Supreme Court upheld by 6–3 along ideological lines the conviction of Adam Samia, who was found guilty in a murder-for-hire scheme on the strength of another person’s written confession.
In the June 23 ruling, the six conservative justices found that Samia’s constitutional right to confront and cross-examine his co-defendant while he was being tried alongside the man wasn’t violated. The co-defendant filed a written confession with the trial court, which was edited so Samia’s name didn’t appear in it.
Because prosecutors took steps to protect Samia’s rights, the U.S. Constitution wasn’t violated.
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
The confession was edited to say “someone” or “the other person” each time Samia’s name was mentioned. The jury also was instructed to disregard the confession in deciding Samia’s guilt.
The government urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal because, among other things, Samia didn’t raise Sixth Amendment objections at trial.
The majority opinion (pdf) in Samia v. United States (court file 22-196) was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh joined the opinion in full. Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the opinion in part and wrote an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment of the court.
The three liberal justices dissented.
Samia had been living in North Carolina working as a security guard on a farm, according to the petition he filed with the Supreme Court. In 2011, he traveled to the Philippines, prepared to perform security work for Echelon Associates.
Echelon turned out to be a front company for Paul LeRoux, a South African citizen who headed a criminal empire operating on four continents. LeRoux, who cooperated with authorities after his arrest, ordered the murder of Catherine Lee, a Filipina real estate agent who LeRoux believed stole money from him in an earlier transaction, the document stated.
All three co-defendants, including Samia, were convicted by a federal jury in the Southern District of New York. U.S. law allows for defendants accused of committing murder in foreign lands to be tried in the United States.
Samia was convicted of murder for hire, conspiring to commit murder for hire, conspiring to kidnap and murder in a foreign country, using or carrying a firearm in the process of committing murder, and conspiring to launder money. He was sentenced to life in prison. A court of appeals affirmed the convictions in part.
Samia was convicted based on the confession provided by one of the co-defendants. But the individual didn’t testify at trial in his own defense, so Samia’s attorney had no opportunity to cross-examine the man. The government of the Philippines also refused to compel the testimony of various witnesses who Samia said he needed for his defense. Samia’s attorneys argued that the evidence against their client fell short of what was needed for a conviction.
In the majority opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that “prosecutors have long tried criminal defendants jointly in cases where the defendants are alleged to have engaged in a common criminal scheme.”
“However, when prosecutors seek to introduce a nontestifying defendant’s confession implicating his codefendants, a constitutional concern may arise,” he wrote.
“Here, we must determine whether the Confrontation Clause [of the Sixth Amendment] bars the admission of a nontestifying codefendant’s confession where (1) the confession has been modified to avoid directly identifying the nonconfessing codefendant and (2) the court offers a limiting instruction that jurors may consider the confession only with respect to the confessing codefendant.
“Considering longstanding historical practice, the general presumption that jurors follow their instructions, and the relevant precedents of this Court, we conclude that it does not.
“The Confrontation Clause ensures that defendants have the opportunity to confront witnesses against them, but it does not provide a freestanding guarantee against the risk of potential prejudice that may arise inferentially in a joint trial. Here, the Clause was not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant’s confession that did not directly inculpate the defendant and was subject to a proper limiting instruction.”
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
In her partly concurring opinion, Barrett wrote that she agreed with the majority on the Confrontation Clause but argued that the cases the majority cited in support of its position dealt with the rules of evidence, not the constitutional provision.
Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson joined.
Of the majority’s argument, she wrote: “Confessions that use a defendant’s name or a symbol of omission—clear Confrontation Clause violation. Confessions that replace a defendant’s name with another place-holder—no Sixth Amendment problem, no matter how obvious the reference to the defendant.
“In so elevating form over substance, the majority permits an end-run around our precedent and undermines a vital constitutional protection for the accused.”
Kagan agreed with an aspect of Barrett’s critique of the majority’s reasoning.
“There just isn’t much history helping the majority,” Kagan wrote.
Jackson also filed her own separate dissenting opinion.
The majority’s “approach inverts the constitutional principles that govern this case” and disregards “our well-established Sixth Amendment precedents,” Jackson wrote.
Samia’s attorney, Kannon Shanmugam of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison in Washington, declined to comment.
The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
The Supreme Court is close to wrapping up its current term, during which it has issued 49 opinions in argued cases. About another 10 opinions are expected before the court recesses for the summer, possibly at the end of the month. The court is scheduled to release more opinions on June 27.
After the summer recess, its new term begins on the first Monday in October.
#supreme court #criminal law #New York #Philippines