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Victim's Right to Timely Decision, Follow-Up

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As noted in yesterday's post, the Texas Attorney General filed a writ of mandamus under the Crime Victims' Rights Act to get a federal district judge to decide a long-delayed successive habeas petition in a capital case.  The statute requires the Court of Appeals to decide within 72 hours.  Given that deadline falls during the weekend, it would be pushed back to the next business day, which is Tuesday.

Today, the district judge decided the case, mooting the petition.  The opinion is here.  Ladd is not retarded.  Petition denied.

In footnote 1, the judge notes defensively, "The court acknowledges the Director's complaint about the court's delay in deciding this case. However, because of the court's caseload, the undersigned judge must often choose between thoroughness and timeliness. In order to be thorough and careful, the court may, on occasion, set aside complex matters for an extended period due to the weight of the court's caseload."

The caseload excuse doesn't cut it.  A case where justice is being delayed for the very worst kind of murder is priority one.  All or nearly all of the other cases are lower priority.

Nonetheless, I know there is a caseload issue in federal district courts.  So here is a case management tip for federal judges.  If you have too much to do, stop doing things Congress and the Supreme Court have told you that you shouldn't be doing.  Like misusing habeas to retry state criminal cases.  Your job is only make sure there hasn't been a major malfunction of the state court system, not to pick at specks and not to overturn any result you would have decided differently had it been your case in the first instance.  It isn't.

Cullen v. Pinholster merely confirmed what should have been obvious on the face of the statute.  You apply ยง2254(d) at the threshold on the state court record.  Did the state court resolve the petitioner's claim on the merits?  If so, did it completely botch it, rendering a decision so obviously wrong that it is beyond serious dispute.  If so, it won't take much time to decide.  A decision that wrong practically screams off the page.  If not, deny that claim. 

If all claims are denied this way, procedurally defaulted, or just plain garbage (not exclusive categories, BTW), deny the petition.  Even in capital cases, state-prisoner habeas petitions needing discovery and evidentiary hearings should be the exception, not the rule.  Most should be denied on the pleadings within months, not years, of filing.

1 Comment

Arrogant to the end. Instead of getting defensive, the judge should have simply apologized.

"In order to be thorough and careful, the court may, on occasion, set aside complex matters for an extended period due to the weight of the court's caseload."

For seven years, when weighty federalism concerns are an issue?

Also, was this case really a "complex matter?" The MR claim was very very weak.

Speaking of the word, "forthwith"--the Fifth Circuit should lift the stay forthwith.

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