May 28, 2013 United States Supreme Court opinions

Trevino v Thaler

Trevino was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. His trial council did nto adequately investigate mitigating evidence to present at sentencing. His federal habeas claim was denied on the basis that he could have raised the failure to investigate claim in his direct appeal. The court, 5-4, reversed. Applying Martinez (a 2012 precedent which held counsel’s failure to raise the issue in the first post-conviction relief petition as required by state law can be excused by demonstrating post-conviction counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue) the majority held that while theoretically available, Texas case law shows that the Texas court of Criminal appeals has directed defendants to raise ineffectiveness arguments at post-conviction proceedings and the theoretically available new trial motion procedure is generally unavailable as there is a short window to file and no transcript will be available. Thus, because the apparent avenue o direct appeal is effectively unavailable, the Martinez rule applies and the procedural bar can be overcome. The Chief Justice, joined by Justice Alito, dissented arguing the majority’s approach of substituting a “meaningful opportunity” analysis for a bright line direct/collateral analysis will undermine finality of judgments by allowing lengthy litigation to determine if a state allow meaningful enough review. Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, dissented arguing Martinez was wrongly decided and lacks any limiting principle.

McQuiggin v Perkins

Perkins field a habeas petition alleging actual innocence based on new evidence. The district court ruled the claim did nto meet the high standard of proving no juror would convict and denied the petition. The 6th Circuit held that actual innocence claims do not need to meet any diligence or other perquisites and reversed. The Court, 5-4, vacated and remanded. The majority held that actual innocence claims are a “miscarriage of justice” claim and as such are not covered by the one year statute of limitation in 28 USC 2244(d)(1)(A). The Majority rejected Michigan’s argument that limitations on other claims found in 2244(d) demonstrated congressional intent to cover actual innocence claims holding those limitation were specific to the situations covered and therefore left the general rules about miscarriage of justice claims in full effect. Hoeve4r, diligence is a component of the merits review of an actual innocence claim. Here, the district court properly did such a merits analysis noting the six years delay in filing a petition based on the new evidence and, absent some cause excusing the failure to file within one year, that decision should be afield. The case was remanded for further proceedings. The dissent argued that the one year limitation period in 2244(d)(1) covers all claims except for those explicitly excluded in the text of the statute. As actual innocence is not excluded, the one year limit applies and controls here. Otherwise, the court would be amending the statute which it is not constitutionally empowered to do. Equitable tolling of a limitation is not an amendment as the principle was well established at the founding. The dissent lamented that merits litigation in the habeas context is even allowed and predicted a new flood of claims which will consume the limited judicial resources of the federal district courts.

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