SCOTUS Denies Actual Innocence Claim

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By Jessica DaSilva

Sept. 14 — An Ohio Innocence Project defendant serving life in prison for a 1991 murder received a blow from the U.S. Supreme Court Sept. 13 ( Cleveland v. Bradshaw, U.S., No. 16A226, application denied 9/13/16).

Justice Elena Kagan’s decision to deny Alfred Cleveland’s certificate of appealability effectively bars the defendant from pursuing his claims in federal court, Jennifer Bergeron, staff attorney at the Ohio Innocence Project representing Cleveland, told Bloomberg BNA.

Bergeron said the decision was “highly disappointing,” especially considering the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concluding that no juror could find the defendant guilty based on the new evidence.

“It’s hard to understand how someone who could have a federal court declare that they appear to be actually innocent not allowed to appeal on the merits of their claims,” she said.

In his certificate for appealability, Cleveland sought to have four claims considered:

  •  The prosecution failed to disclose evidence showing that the only witness who placed the defendant at the crime scene had lied about being threatened.
  •  The prosecution knew or should have known the sole witness’s testimony was false.
  •  The defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to find alibi witnesses who would have bolstered his claim that he was in another state at the time of the murder.
  •  Actual innocence.
While Bergeron said the Ohio Innocence Project will continue working on Cleveland’s case, they will need to regroup to determine the next step. She said they have some ideas, but they were too premature to discuss.

Other Defendant’s Case Still Pending

The defendant was convicted with three co-defendants, who also claim innocence but were not parties to the certificate of appealability.

One of Cleveland’s co-defendants, Ian “Benson” Davis, has a case pending at the district court level, but Davis’s attorney does not think the decision in Cleveland's case will affect the outcome of Davis's case.

“While they were convicted of the same crime, they have different legal issues,” said Joanna Feigenbaum Sanchez, an assistant state public defender with the Ohio Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Project.

Both attorneys and courts have made efforts to keep Cleveland’s and Davis’s cases separate, so Sanchez said the decision likely won’t have a large impact on the case.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica DaSilva in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at

For More Information

Cleveland’s application is available at

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