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Important Victory in Habeas

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The United States Supreme Court has unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit in the California murder case of Walker v. Martin.  The high court held that claims that Martin raised too late in state court, and were therefore barred there, cannot be considered in federal court. (This rule has exceptions for claims delayed for good cause and for prisoners who can show actual innocence, but those exceptions do not apply in this case.)

The evasion of the "procedural default" rule in the Ninth Circuit, and to a lesser extent in other circuits, is a major source of delay in habeas litigation.  The problem is most acute in capital cases, where execution of the judgment is delayed.  (Martin is not a capital case.) 

The device used to evade the rule is to declare that the state court's rule is "inadequate."  Last term in a Pennsylvania murder case, the Supreme Court decided that a state rule is not "inadequate" merely because it allows for the use of discretion.  Today's opinion expands on that holding.  Prisoners cannot evade the state's rule by throwing on the state a burden of showing perfect consistency.  Discretionary rules by nature have varying application.  The purpose of the "inadequate state ground" exception is to prevent discrimination, and there is no such showing here.

This is a major victory.  It may be the most important case of the term in criminal law.

CJLF's brief in Martin is here.

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On a semi-related matter, I see from a news story that the 6th circuit is 0 for its last 15 in the USSC. That may even surpass the 9th!

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