Supreme Court Rules for Prisoners In Two 5-4 Habeas Corpus Cases


Two 5-4 Supreme Court rulings in habeas corpus cases yesterday represent victories for the prisoners, with the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy making the crucial difference in each, says the National Law Journal. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for a 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.”

In the second habeas case, the same five justices prevailed in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 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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