Sunday, June 2, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Prisoners in Two Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court recently decide two federal habeas appeals in favor of  prisoners, with the crucial deciding vote in each case going to Justice Anthony Kennedy, reported The National Law Journal.

In Trevino v. Thaler, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the five-justice majority, extended a narrow 2012 decision concerning the right of a state prisoner to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a federal habeas proceeding after failing to do so in a state post-conviction proceeding.

Breyer wrote that the Texas procedural system "as a matter of its structure, design, and operation—does not offer most defendants a meaningful opportunity to present a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal."

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., joined by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., dissented, accusing the majority of throwing over "the crisp limit we made so explicit just last Term." He added, "The questions raised by this equitable equation are as endless as will be the state-by-state litigation it takes to work them out."

Utah and 24 other states filed an amicus brief supporting Texas. They warned that the vast majority of States do not channel all ineffectiveness-assistance claims to collateral proceedings.

The National Law Journal reported that the second habeas case, found the same five justices joining in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In McQuiggin v. Perkins, the majority held that a prisoner's convincing showing of actual innocence can overcome the one-year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) for filing a federal habeas petition.

"To invoke the miscarriage-of-justice exception to AEDPA's statute of limitations, we repeat, a petitioner 'must show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence,'" wrote Ginsburg. "Unexplained delay in presenting new evidence bears on the determination whether the petitioner has made the requisite showing."

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