Recently in Habeas Corpus Category

SCOTUS Stays Missouri Execution

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Last night the U.S. Supreme Court acted on two petitions from Missouri rapist and triple murderer Mark Christeson.  See description of the crime here.  There is no doubt about the justice in this case.  Guilt is conclusively proved by DNA, and the crime clearly warrants the penalty.  The Court is apparently satisfied that the lawyers purporting to represent Christeson actually do.  See prior post here.

In Supreme Court case 14-6878, the Supreme Court denied review of Eighth Circuit case 14-2220.  That case has to do with disclosure and compounded pentobarbital.

In Supreme Court case 14-6873, the Supreme Court granted a stay to allow it to decide whether to review Christeson's habeas petition, denied as untimely by the district court.  The Eighth Circuit denied a stay in case 14-3389. 

This case presents issues of representation of prisoners.  The Supreme Court opened a can of worms in its Martinez and Trevino decisions when it said that ineffectiveness of state collateral review counsel can be "good cause" for a federal court to consider a claim defaulted in state court.  If the same lawyer represents the prisoner in both proceedings, can he be expected to argue his own ineffectiveness?  But how many new lawyers are we going to appoint for one defendant?  We already say that trial counsel can't continue into habeas for this reason.  Is every defendant going to get another new lawyer for federal habeas, and will justice be delayed and denied in every capital case while that lawyer gets up to speed?  That could be some time, given how complex capital cases can be.

Note that this problem is not entirely limited to capital cases.  Martinez was not a capital case.  The problem of justice being delayed while the case is litigated is limited to capital cases, but the underlying conflict issues are not.

The Christeson case involves the related issue of appointed counsel missing the deadline to file the federal habeas petition, as distinguished from the state-court procedural defaults in Martinez and Trevino.
Looks like criminal law and law enforcement are going to be a bigger part of this Term of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court's Monday orders list took up for full briefing and argument three criminal and related cases:

Chappell v. Ayala, No. 13-1428, the Ninth Circuit decided in favor of California death row inmate Hector Ayala.   The case involves the interaction between harmless error analysis and the deference owed to state court decisions when an inmate takes his rejected claims to the federal courts on habeas corpus.  If I'm not mistaken, the Ninth Circuit's batting average in California capital cases, once certiorari is granted, is .000.

Los Angeles v. Patel, No. 13-1175:  Does a hotel have a privacy interest in its guest register, so that police cannot inspect it at will even though a local ordinance says they can?  There are a lot of heavily regulated industries that have such requirements.  The government can go through an auto wrecking yard checking the VINs for stolen vehicles, for example.  No warrant or particularized basis of suspicion required.  How about hotels?

Henderson v. United States, No. 13-1487:  What to do with a defendant's guns when, as a result of his conviction, he can no longer legally possess them?

Jennings v. Stephens Argument, Continued

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The argument transcript in Jennings v. Stephens is now available.

On page 27 counsel for the petitioner (i.e., the prisoner) seeks to refute an argument that I made initially and the state picked up on.  If the petitioner prevails in district court and there is no filter at all, then a petitioner who filed a potload of arguments, most of them frivolous, can argue them all on appeal as long as he prevails on one.  See pages 9 and 14 of CJLF's brief.  He seeks to assure the Supreme Court this scenario would be rare.  I don't know about Texas, but it is certainly not rare in capital cases in California.  Burying the courts in a mass of arguments, most patently meritless, defaulted, or both, is standard procedure here, as the California Supreme Court described in In re Reno.  It's all part of the strategy to throw as much sand in the gears as possible.

Much of the discussion in this case involves the effect of a decision granting habeas relief in U.S. District Court when the case goes back to the state court.  The state's position is that the district court decision settles every issue decided between the parties for the purpose of retrial, so if that court says the prisoner is right on claim A but wrong on B, C, D, E, and F, he has to appeal a decision he won if he doesn't want what he believes to be errors on B through F repeated at the retrial.  The whole idea of prisoner who won his new trial in the federal district court's decision appealing that decision strikes me as very strange.

The general rule in litigation is that a decision of a court on an issue settles that issue between the parties unless that decision is appealed and reversed on appeal.  This is called issue preclusion or collateral estoppel.  A better answer to the problem the state poses in this case is to simply to say that this rule does not apply in habeas corpus.  In olden times, a decision on habeas corpus did not have res judicata effect, so a prisoner could go from one judge to another asking relief, and none would be bound by the denial of relief by the others.  The Supreme Court could, and in my view should, partially revive this rule for federal habeas for state prisoners and say that the federal district court's authority in issuing a conditional release order is limited to saying "either release him or give him a new trial," period.  Whether the state courts want to respect the federal judge's conclusions in the opinion that went into that order should be up to them.  Whether the federal courts would overturn the judgment on habeas again if they do not would be a new case, with the AEDPA deference standard playing a large role.

Another big issue is whether ineffective assistance of counsel is one claim or a separate claim for each alleged error of counsel.  I think there is one legal right to have an effective attorney, and a claimed violation of that right is one claim, at least as to each phase of the case.  That would simplify things considerably, and Justice Breyer notes our brief  to that effect at pages 48-49.

Update, 10/17:  Rory Little has this analysis of the argument at SCOTUSblog.

Jennings v. Stephens Argument

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The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing argument today in Jennings v. Stephens. We noted this case in the week preview last Friday.  Rory Little has a preview at SCOTUSblog, with some complimentary things to say about CJLF's brief.

The transcript should be available this afternoon.

Time and Again

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Opening its new term, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again unanimously chastised the notorious Ninth Circuit for once again ignoring the limits placed by Congress on its authority to second-guess reasonable decisions on debatable questions of law by the state courts with primary jurisdiction over a case.  The opinion begins (emphasis added):

When a state prisoner seeks federal habeas relief on the ground that a state court, in adjudicating a claim on the merits, misapplied federal law, a federal court may grant relief only if the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). We have emphasized, time and again, that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat.1214, prohibits the federal courts of appeals from relying on their own precedent to conclude that a particular constitutional principle is "clearly established." See, e.g., Marshall v. Rodgers, 569 U. S. __, __ (2013) (per curiam) (slip op. at 6). Because the Ninth Circuit failed to comply with this rule, we reverse its decision granting habeas relief to respondent Marvin Smith.
The case is Lopez v. Smith, No. 13-346.

There is a broad spectrum of viewpoints on the Supreme Court today, but when there is not a single justice who thinks the court of appeals' decision is correct, when the error is so obvious that it doesn't even require full briefing and argument, and when the same pattern recurs "time and again," there is something gravely wrong with some of our courts of appeals (mostly those divisible by 3).

The continuing violation of this provision by some of the lower federal courts is the largest-scale defiance of federal law since the "massive resistance" campaign in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  Except this time federal courts are perpetrators of the violations instead of enforcers of the law.

Evading Congress's Landmark Habeas Reform

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Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc in a case it decided last year and the Supreme Court turned down last June.  Judge Tallman, joined by Judges O'Scannlain, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta, takes the unusual step of dissenting from a grant of rehearing en banc. 

If one is remembered for the rules one breaks, then our court must be unforgettable. By taking this capital habeas case en banc now--after certiorari has been denied by the Supreme Court and well after the deadline for en banc review by our court has passed--we violate the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and our own General Orders. We also ignore recent Supreme Court authority that has reversed us for doing the same thing in the past. No circuit is as routinely reversed for just this type of behavior. We ought to know better.
Aside from the specific procedural question in this case is a deeper question.  Congress passed a landmark law in 1996 for the specific purpose of a making capital punishment effective.  One of the reforms was to crack down on successive petitions -- the filing of a new federal habeas petition after the first one has been denied.  This was, initially, one of most effective reforms in the package.  It was upheld by the Supreme Court with remarkable swiftness, two months after enactment of the law.  See Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651 (1996).  (CJLF filed an amicus brief.  See footnote on p. 654.)

However, the effectiveness of the reform has been diluted in recent years by the use of various procedural devices to reopen the old petition instead of filing a new one.  The Supreme Court has not been tough enough in restricting this practice.  Habeas corpus is not just another civil case.  Congress spoke clearly when it said that once a case is finished it should be reopened only for certain very compelling circumstances (like, for instance, we got the wrong guy).  An arguably insufficient consideration of "mitigating" evidence that has nothing whatever to do with the crime, which is what Henry is about, is not a good enough reason to further delay already badly delayed justice.  Congress has decided that, and the courts need to respect that.

Jones v. Chappell Appeal

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Last week I noted the appeal in Jones v. Chappell, the case holding that because of the delays in carrying out justice in the worst murder cases in California we must now forgo that justice altogether. The docket number in the Ninth Circuit is 14-56373.  The appellant's opening brief is due December 1.  The answer brief is due December 29.  The reply brief is due January 12.  These are all Mondays.

Some people have asked me about a stay.  There is nothing to stay.  There is no injunction affecting other cases.  There is no final judgment in this case.  This is just a ruling on one claim in one case.  To the extent the judge's order purports to vacate Jones's death sentence directly, it is void.  A federal district court judge has no authority to vacate a judgment in a state criminal case as such.  He can only issue a conditional release order, saying that the warden must release a person unless he is retried or resentenced, and the judge in this case has not done that yet.

BTW, Ninth Circuit case 14-56302 is the Soos/Justice appeal noted here, and that case will surely go away shortly.  Update: Today Mr. Soos and Dr. Justice filed their response to the Court of Appeals' order to explain what the heck they are doing appealing a case to which they are not parties.

Pretrial Habeas Corpus and Gov. Perry

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Once upon a time, the use of habeas corpus in criminal cases was almost entirely pretrial.  A person jailed pending trial for alleged conduct that he contended was not a crime could get that issue reviewed via habeas corpus.  The most famous American case involved two men accused in the Aaron Burr conspiracy.  See Ex parte Bollman and Swartwout, 8 U.S. 75 (1807).  The writ could be used post-trial to attack the jurisdiction of a court of limited jurisdiction, such as a court-martial of a defendant who claimed to be a civilian, but collateral attack via habeas corpus on a conviction by a court of general jurisdiction was simply not available.  It was over 40 years after the formation of the federal courts before anyone tried, and the attempt was swiftly shot down in Ex parte Watkins, 28 U.S. 193 (1830).

Today the situation is very much the opposite.  We don't see a lot of pretrial habeas corpus these days, but Texas Governor Rick Perry is doing it old school.  Eugene Volokh has this post with a link to the application. Perry is in "custody," a jurisdictional requirement for habeas corpus, because he is out on bond.

Jones v. Chappell Appealed

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The California Attorney General today filed a notice of appeal in the Jones v. Chappell case.

Earlier posts on this case:

The Lackey Claim, Again

Summing up the Jones Death Penalty Case

Why Jones v. Chappell is Wrong, Part 2

Why Jones v. Chappell is Wrong, Part 3 -- Teague v. Lane

Time to Appeal Jones v. Chappell, Ms. Harris

Does a California District Attorney Have Standing to Intervene in a Federal Habeas Corpus Case?

Further Strange Developments in Jones v. Chappell

The Attorney General said in a press release, "I am appealing the court's decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review."  Undermines important protections?  Well, certainly "not supported by the law," "flawed," and "requires appellate review" are correct.  With apologies to Meatloaf, three out of four ain't bad.

Actual Innocence and Habeas Corpus

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Is a claim that a convicted prisoner is actually innocent of the crime, by itself without any claim that the trial was procedurally unfair, a ground for relief in habeas corpus?  That question remains unanswered.  Today in Jones v. Taylor, No. 13-36202, the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court's grant of relief to an Oregon prisoner convicted of intrafamily sexual abuse.  As sometimes happens in such cases, the witnesses (who are family of the defendant) recanted.  The opinion by Judge Tashima skips the question of whether a sufficient showing of actual innocence can be a ground for habeas relief and says that this showing doesn't make it.

This is a common outcome in such cases.  The Supreme Court seemed poised to decide the "actual innocence" question in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993), but when it took a good, hard look at the evidence it saw that it fell "far short" of anything that might conceivably warrant overturning a conviction.  In the infamous Troy Davis case, the high court took the extraordinary step of sending an original habeas petition to a district court for fact-finding on innocence, where the district judge found that Davis's claim of innocence was "smoke and mirrors." 

Ryan v. Hurles Returns to SCOTUS

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Arizona's attempt to reinstate the death sentence of murderer Richard Hurles is back in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The prior petition was "relisted" an astonishing 22 times before the Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion and issued a new one, causing the state to withdraw its petition.  The case was noted many times on this blog, including this post and this post, and it was a "regular" in John Elwood's "Relist Watch" at SCOTUSblog.

The new petition is number 14-191.

Woodall Bearing Fruit

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In the U.S. Supreme Court's last term, CJLF accomplished one of its long-standing objectives regarding Congress's landmark 1996 reform of federal habeas corpus.  On questions of law, including "mixed questions" of law and fact, a lower federal court can effectively overturn a decision of a state court only if the state court decision is either (1) contrary to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, or (2) an "unreasonable application" of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  That second phrase is supposed to refer to application of existing rules to the particular facts of the case, not making up new rules by plowing new legal ground.  We got the Supreme Court to clarify that, and put the brakes on lower federal courts, last April in White v. Woodall, discussed in this post.

Friday we saw the effect of Woodall in keeping a Nevada murderer in prison where he belongs.  The opinion comes from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, not friendly territory for law enforcement, written by Judge A. Wallace Tashima, not one of our best friends.
If I were Attorney General of California, Judge Carney's decision in Jones v. Chappell, noted here, here, here, here, and here would have been greeted the same day by a fiery denunciation and a Churchillesque pledge to fight it wherever, whenever, and for as long as it takes.  Instead, we have who we have, and we hear [sound of crickets chirping].

The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the State of California and has a constitutional duty to see that its laws are enforced.  (Cal. Const. Art. V § 13.)  Until we hear otherwise, we should assume that Ms. Harris will do her duty and do everything in her power to have this clearly erroneous obstruction of the law overturned.  Purely hypothetically, though, I have been musing about the possibilities.  So let's take a little stroll down the "what if" road.

In California, can the District Attorney intervene in a federal habeas corpus collateral attack on a felony conviction and appeal a grant of relief if the Attorney General fails to?
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court announced one of the most important decisions* in the modern history of criminal procedure, Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 306 (1989).  Adopting a rule proposed by Justice Harlan 20 years earlier, the court decided that new rules of constitutional law would not be applied retroactively to cases that were already final on direct review at the time the rule was announced.  A corollary rule was that new rules could not be announced in habeas review of final convictions.

In his decision declaring California's death penalty unconstitutional, Judge Carney has this cursory discussion of the Teague issue:

The rule Mr. Jones seeks to have applied here--that a state may not arbitrarily inflict the death penalty--is not new. Rather, it is inherent in the most basic notions of due process and fair punishment embedded in the core of the Eighth Amendment. See Furman, 408 U.S. at 274-77 (Brennan, J., concurring) (describing the principle that "the State must not arbitrarily inflict a severe punishment" as "inherent in the [Cruel and Unusual Punishment] Clause" and tracing its application in Anglo-American jurisprudence); see also id. at 242 (Douglas, J., concurring) ("There is evidence that the provision of the English Bill of Rights of 1689, from which the language of the Eighth Amendment was taken, was concerned primarily with selective or irregular application of harsh penalties and that its aim was to forbid arbitrary and discriminatory penalties of a severe nature."). This rule is certainly one "so deeply embedded in the fabric of due process that everyone takes it for granted." Dyer v. Calderon, 151 F.3d 970, 984 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc). It is therefore not a new rule for Teague purposes. See id. ("[A] rule needs to be announced for purposes of Teague only if it's new.").
Judge Carney is breathtakingly ignorant of the most elementary principles for applying the Teague rule.

The Lackey Claim, Again

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It's been almost twenty years since Justice Stevens, alone, took seriously a claim that a death sentence could be rendered unconstitutional by the length of time taken by the many procedures to review it, all or most of them initiated by the defendant.  That was in Lackey v. Texas, 514 U.S. 1045 (1995).  The full court has turned the claim down every time.  Although denial of certiorari (meaning simply that the high court declines to hear the case) does not form a precedent binding on lower courts, the consistency of rejection of this claim has generally been understood as a signal that the issue was dead.

Prior posts on the high court's rejection of Lackey claims are here, here, here, here, and here.

Justice Thomas noted in Knight v. Florida, 528 U.S. 990 (1999):

I write only to point out that I am unaware of any support in the American constitutional tradition or in this Court's precedent for the proposition that a defendant can avail himself of the panoply of appellate and collateral procedures and then complain when his execution is delayed. Indeed, were there any such support in our own jurisprudence, it would be unnecessary for proponents of the claim to rely on the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, the Supreme Court of India, or the Privy Council.
Now comes a federal district judge in California who accepts the claim based on the particularly extended delays in California.  The order is here.

Judge Carney's thesis, in a nutshell, is that the death penalty lacks a penological basis after such a long delay.  But the retribution interest, at least, is still there.  The defendant still deserves this punishment for the very worst murders, and society has a valid interest in carrying it out, no matter how long it takes.

The problems Judge Carney notes are violations of rights, though -- the rights of the victims' families.  See 18 U.S.C. § 3771(a)(7); Cal. Const., Art. I, § 28(b)(9).  The California Legislature has been derelict in its duty to pass the needed reforms, killing them in committee time after time.  The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and ultimately the Governor, have been derelict in their duty to carry out their responsibilities to execute judgments and implement a protocol that will allow them to do so.  The California Supreme Court has been derelict in its duty to resolve state habeas petitions in a reasonable time by referring them to the superior court where they belong.  The federal courts have been derelict in their duty to fully implement the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, evading it at every turn despite numerous reversals by the Supreme Court.

All of these people need to do their duty and fix the delays -- for the victims, not the perpetrators.

The facts of the particular case follow the break.

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