Yesterday, the MSSC issued an order in an Atkins proceeding, including this statement:
The trial judge held an evidentiary hearing on this matter on August 16-17, 2010. Following the hearing, the circuit court ordered the State and Chase’s counsel to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The State submitted a fifty-seven page Proposed Findings of Fact and conclusions of Law. The trial judge signed the State’s submission verbatim, including leaving the title “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” raising concerns in this death-penalty case.
I agree that that should “raise concerns” … in any case. But is that the law?
If we are to adopt and apply a “heightened-scrutiny” standard, simple fairness and justice requires us to publish that standard – in more than name – to the bench and bar. And because that has not been done – and because we decline to do it today – we shall continue to apply the familiar abuse-of-discretion standard to a trial judge’s factual findings, even where the judge adopts verbatim a party’s proposed findings of fact. And should a party suspect and suggest that the judge’s factual findings are somehow tainted or untrustworthy, we hold that the party – upon proper proof – may seek a new trial.
Bluewater Logistics, LLC v. Williford, 55 So. 3d 148, 157 (Miss. 2011). Of course, the Court applies “heightened scrutiny” in all capital cases. But in Williford, the Court snarkily professed to have no idea what “heightened scrutiny” could possibly even mean, and hence how to apply it. Which would be bad news for capital defendants, I guess, except the same Court somehow managed to figure out how to do it in the present instance.
(Author of Williford? Dickinson, J. Author of the quoted order in Chase? Dickinson, P.J. “Oh, Justice Dickinson — I have Justice Dickinson here on line one. Will you take the call?”)