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May 23, 2008

"Habeas Corpus and State Sentencing Reform: A Story of Unintended Consequences"

This title of this post is the title of this new piece from Professors Nancy King and Susan Sherry appearing on SSRN that looks like a must-read for the long weekend.  Here is the abstract:

This Article tells the story of how fundamental shifts in state sentencing policy collided with fundamental shifts in federal habeas policy to produce a tangled and costly doctrinal wreck. The conventional assumption is that state prisoners seeking habeas relief allege constitutional errors in their state-court convictions and sentences. But almost twenty percent of federal habeas petitions filed by state prisoners do not challenge state-court judgments. They instead attack administrative actions by state prison officials or parole boards, actions taken long after the petitioner's conviction and sentencing. Challenges to these administrative decisions create serious problems for federal habeas law, which is designed to structure federal review of state-court judgments, and is ill suited for review of administrators' actions. Courts find themselves trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, and the confusion is particularly intolerable given the stakes for prisoners, state prison systems, and federal courts. This Article is the first to identify this significant problem, to analyze its disparate and complicated causes, and to propose a simple and rational way for Congress to respond.

May 23, 2008 at 10:03 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"Courts find themselves trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, and the confusion is particularly intolerable given the stakes for prisoners, state prison systems, and federal courts."

I think I have the answer. The SCOTUS could just declare that, in light of evolving standards of geometry, the round holes are now square.

What the heck -- it wouldn't be the biggest reach they've ever done.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 23, 2008 11:36:01 AM

There's a real problem with arbitrariness on the state prison administrative grievance level. This affects both habeas and prisoner civil rights review. While the issue is a background theme throughout Woodford v. Ngo and similar cases dealing with procedural requirements imposed by the PLRA, in habeas it seems to have been ignored. Professors King and Sherry have hit on a "big idea" solution that addresses fundamental incompatabilies.
However, while I think praise is in order, I must object to Professor Berman's cavalier attitude towards the sanctity of Memorial Day weekend.

Posted by: Gray Proctor | May 23, 2008 11:51:13 AM

The Constitutional rights of alleged criminals has to be protected from police abuse and law enforcement actions that are against the law. Citizens have a right to know what their rights are, and the state needs to iron out these wrinkles or risk denying those under suspician of their rights. It's a shame that the state and federal courts and law enforcement officials, as well as Congress, can't agree on how to streamline these administrative details.

Posted by: joe | May 23, 2008 12:41:30 PM

Let's not forget that regulations can bypass the Constitution because they are regulations and not criminal law. The SCOTUS needs to revisit that blunder in history. Any civil violation more severe in consequences than an infraction is actually a criminal law. In short, any violation of law that results in a jury for its determination of guilt that results, or could result, in imprisonment is the execution of criminal, not civil, law. Without the SCOTUS as a check and balance, we could fall back into the dark ages of the Black Laws regulations.

Posted by: George | May 24, 2008 9:00:54 PM

"Let's not forget that regulations can bypass the Constitution because they are regulations and not criminal law. T"

What? Since when?

Posted by: S.cotus | May 25, 2008 2:55:37 PM

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