Recent Decisions

2021 Term Decisions of Interest to Capital Habeas Practitioners

Shoop v. Twyford, 596 U.S. ___ (June 21, 2022)In Ohio death penalty case where district court granted petitioner's request for an order allowing transfer to a medical facility for neurological testing, the Sixth Circuit's decision upholding the order is reversed.  "A transportation order that allows a prisoner to search for new evidence is not 'necessary or appropriate in aid of' a federal court’s adjudication of a habeas corpus action, 28 U. S. C. §1651(a), when the prisoner has not shown that the desired evidence would be admissible in connection with a particular claim for relief."

Kemp v. United States, 596 U.S. ____ (June 13, 2022).  The term “mistake” in Rule 60(b)(1) includes a judge’s errors of law. Because Kemp’s motion alleged such a legal error, it was cognizable under Rule 60(b)(1), rather than Rule 60(b)(6),and untimely under Rule 60(c)’s 1-year limitations period. 

Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, 596 U.S. ___(May 23, 2022).  The equitable rule announced in Martinez v. Ryan providing that ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel can provide “cause” to forgive the procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance by trial counsel does not permit a federal court to dispense with 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)’s narrow limits on federal evidentiary hearings even where a prisoner’s state postconviction counsel was at fault for failing to develop the state-court record on the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim.

Brown v. Davenport, 596 U.S. ___ (April 21, 2022).  When a state court has ruled on the merits of a state prisoner’s claim and found a constitutional error to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief without applying both the  test outlined in Brecht and the one Congress prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) of AEDPA.  Assuming here that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in its conclusion that the prisoner satisfied Brecht as to his claim of unconstitutional shackling, it cannot be said that the Michigan court unreasonably applied Chapman when it found that the prosecution had established the prisoner's shackling was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Ramirez v. Collier, 595 U.S. ___ (March 24, 2022).  Under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), Texas death row inmate John Ramirez met the standard for entitlement to a preliminary injuction ordering Texas to permit Ramirez's long-time pastor to pray with him and lay hands on him while he is being executed.

United States v. Tsarnaev, 595 U.S. ___ (March 4, 2022).  In federal death penalty case arising from the Boston Marathon bombings, the First Circuit Court of Appeals improperly vacated the defendant's death sentences.  First, the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to ask about the content and extent of each juror’s media consumption regarding the bombing and the First Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it relied on its alleged "supervisory authority" to require the lower court to ask specific questions during voir dire.  Second, the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence during the sentencing phase about an alleged triple-murder committed by the defendant's deceased older brother, evidence the defense suggested showed the brother's greater cupability for the bombing-related offenses.  The district court reasonably concluded that evidence about the triple-murder lacked probative value and had the potential to confuse the jury. The statute permitting exclusion of evidence under such circumstances, 18 U.S.C. §3593(c), does not violate the Eighth Amendment. 

Hemphill v. New York, 595 U.S. ___ (Jan. 20, 2022).  In non-capital murder case where the defense argued that a third party was the actual shooter of the gun whose stray bullet struck and killed a 2-year-old-child, the defendant's Confrontation Clause rights were violated by the admission of portions of the transcript from the unavailable third party's plea allocution in which he admitted to possession of a different caliber gun than the one that caused the victim's death.  It was not the judge’s role to decide that the unconfronted evidence was reasonably necessary to correct a misleading impression allegedly created by the defense case. "Such inquiries are antithetical to the Confrontation Clause."