To experienced lawyers it is commonplace that the outcome of a lawsuit—and hence the vindication of legal rights—depends more often on how the fact finder appraises the facts than on a disputed construction of a statute or interpretation of a line of precedents.
—Justice William Brennan 1
When the Williams case first came to the Supreme Court, Justice Powell commented that “resolution of the issues in this case turns primarily on one’s perception of the facts.” 2 Justice Powell’s comment is absolutely correct. The determination of which version of the facts was believed was central to what evidence was presented to the jury and thus influenced its verdict. If a separate version of the facts had been accepted by Judge Denato, he may have ruled that Robert Williams’s incriminating statements and related evidence was not admissible, and this may have resulted in a different verdict. The debate as to which subjective facts should be accepted and how the procedural law of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments should apply to them became the basis of the appeal of Williams’s first trial. In determining both the facts and the law, discretion plays a major role. By examining the appeals process in the state and lower federal courts, this chapter illustrates why competing versions of the facts and law led to delay in the final administration of justice in Williams’s murder conviction.
Our federal and state judicial system allows people who are convicted of crimes to appeal their convictions to an appellate court. While many people