On November 1, the Supreme Court issued a decision declining to hear the appeal of James Ford Seale on the question of whether the statute of limitations applied to his case. Justice Scalia and Stevens agreed for once that the Court should hear it, because it would affect many other cases, but they were overruled by the other justices.
The implications of the case are many. In the short term, it means that Seale will remain in prison. It also means that the appeal will continue, and that the Court could consider the issue at a later time.
In a larger sense, it means that the issue of the applicability of the statute of limitations to crimes such as Seale’s remains unsettled. The 5th Circuit estimated that two dozen other cases may be affected by the ruling.
If prosecutors in Mississippi and other southern states proceed with prosecutions of race murders from the sixties with the same statute of limitation problems, any convictions could later be overturned. This would result in a waste of resources, resources that could otherwise be used prosecuting these types of cases that don’t have statute of limitations problems.
Meanwhile, the odds look better and better that James Ford Seale, a very ill man, may well die in prison before the issue is finally resolved.
To get the Mississippi perspective of the story, see this article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.