« SCOTUS refuses to take on Booker plain error | Main | Pondering the SCOTUS plain error dodge »

June 20, 2005

Important capital IAC and AEDPA rulings from SCOTUS

Though Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog details here that we are still awaiting the Supreme Court's biggest decisions, a few of the big remaining criminal justice cases were handed down today.  Specifically, thanks to this post at How Appealing, I see that the Court has issued opinions concerning ineffective assistance of counsel in the capital case of Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462 (syllabus here and full opinion here) and concerning statutes of limitation in the habeas case of Dodd v. United States, No. 04-5286 (syllabus here and full opinion here). 

Both Rompilla and Dodd are 5-4 decisions with "traditional" liberal/conservative splits on issues of great import for criminal justice administration.  Rompilla seems like a big win for defendants, and Dodd seems like a big a loss; I encourage readers to use the comments to help me fully appreciate which ruling is likely to be of the greatest import and impact.  (Since both cases have AEDPA wrinkles, I continue to hope someone will take up my recommendation in this post to start an AEDPA blog.)

Last but not least, the criminal justice work of the Supreme Court is never complete these days without at least a few more Booker-inspired GVRs. This morning I count a five such GVRs on this order list.

UPDATE: An AP report from Hope Yen on Rompilla is here, and a Reuters report from James Vinici is here, and a full SCOTUSblog report is here.

June 20, 2005 at 11:22 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Important capital IAC and AEDPA rulings from SCOTUS:


Dodd will certainly clutter up the Courts. Everytime the Supreme Court issues a favorable decision in a criminal case, inmates across the country will now be required to file a motion seeking to apply this newly recognized right retroactively to their case. They will have no choice, because the Supreme Court even recognizes that rarely will the announcement of a new right and retroactivity be decided within one year of each other.

This certainly sets the stage though to deny Apprendi/Blakely/Booker relief to thousands of inmates if that line of cases is ultimately declared retroactive.

Posted by: rob | Jun 20, 2005 2:08:07 PM

After Dodd, it wouldn't surprise me to see a whole bunch of anticipatory habeas (and 2255) filings every time the Supreme Court decides a claim in favor of criminal defendants. This is the inevitable result of Congress's bad draftsmanship of this portion of AEDPA coupled with the Dodd Court's turning a blind eye to common sense.

Limitations periods don't ordinarily begin running until the cause of action accrues, as all the Jusices agree. Surely Congress would legislate against this common-law (and common-sense) backdrop. But the bad draftsmanship in the AEDPA's statute of limitations turns this eminently reasonable notion on its head when the limitations period runs up against the Supreme Court's retroactivity jurisprudence (see Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989)).

Consider how this works in the ordinary run of things: first the Supreme Court grants criminal defendants a right, and some time later -- usually much more than a year later -- it decides that that right either does or does not apply retroactively. (Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002), and Schriro v. Summerlin, 124 S. Ct. 2519 (2004), were almost exactly two years apart, which is reasonably the shortest time between these two events in the majority of cases.) But AEDPA's statute of limitations is only one year, and it runs from the time the right is "initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review." 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(3).

Holding that the AEDPA limitations period runs from the time the Supreme Court "initially recognizes" the right in question encourages habeas petitions that might be both meritless and untimely. Without knowing whether the right the petitioner asserts will be held retroactive to his case, the Dodd Court requires him to file his petition anyway. If the district court wants to be rid of the petition, it has some options. It could assume that the claim is retroactive and deny it on the merits. It can dismiss the claim as Teague-barred, because the Supreme Court has not yet held the right in question to be retroactive to the petitioner's case. Or it can perform a Teague analysis, decide that the right the petitioner asserts does not apply retroactively, and then dismiss the claim as untimely because the right asserted does not apply retroactively and therefore no new limitations period has arisen. Without knowing definitely that the right he asserts is available to him, he must file his habeas petition anyway to preemptively avoid losing a right he doesn't actually know he has.

Reading section 2244(d)(3) against the more sensible backdrop -- that Congress would not want to provide a limitations period that expired before the claim became colorable -- would certainly cut down on this problem. Allowing the AEDPA limitations period to run from the date the Supreme Court recognizes that a new right applies retroactively would cut down on this preemptive litigation. A comparatively small number of petitioners would litigate the retroactivity issue first, and then if the right were held retroactive, the other prisoners would come forward with their Teague-permissible claims.

Alas, textualism has won, and common sense has lost.

Posted by: keith hilzendeger | Jun 20, 2005 2:37:55 PM

Dodd has major and immediate implications for the AEDPA statute of limitations on Blakely/Booker claims. I would emphasize that the "newly recognized right" in question was more likely announced in Blakely than in Booker, so the year is more likely (under Dodd) to run from the date of Blakely than from the date of Booker next January. Honestly, it's hard to see how Booker announced any "new right" at all (although many circuits have more or less said it did, for purposes of analyzing retroactivity under Teague v Lane, a related but not necessarily identical question, even in the cockamamie sense that the expression "new rule" is used for Teague v Lane purposes); what was *new* in Booker was the *remedy* not the "right" or the "rule," IMHO. Be that as it may, the only sensible advice at this point, it seems to me, for any federal prisoner whose conviction became final more than a year ago and whose sentence might be mitigated if Booker were applied to him/her, and who has not previously filed a 2255 motion, is to file a 2255 on or before 6/24/05 - four days from now! The motion doesn't have to be in polished form, just to get something in. For a pro se prisoner, depositing it in the prison legal mailbox counts as filing, if the motion says that's what the prisoner is going to do. It can be amended to comply with formal requirements, at least (I'm leaving wiggle room here for how Mayle may come out). In all likelihood, the courts aren't going to hold the Apprendi/Ring/Blakely/Booker "rule" retroactive no matter when you file, but just in case there's no reason to blow the statute of limitations
unnecessarily, too.
-- Peter Goldberger, Ardmore, PA

Posted by: Peter G | Jun 20, 2005 3:50:55 PM

Of course, this may open up the definition of "otherwise inadequate" for purposes of jurisidiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

Posted by: rob | Jun 20, 2005 5:14:17 PM

The AEDPA's provisions need to be gutted and redrafted for clarity sake. I recall the first (or one of the first) comparing it to a "pig's ear" rather than a "silk purse." Dodd is proof of that earlier wisdom.

As to the Court's other holding of the day, Rompilla, for dp & habeas practitioner's in many ways this is the major case of the term even if it is not grabbing the headlines like Miller-El or the juvie dp decision.. The Court in this case painstakingly looks at a case from PA were defense counsel did a fairly good job in the penalty phase. Even though the did a fairly good job the Court held this was not enough. What they didn't do, & what is considered a must by most experts in the field, is get all readily available records. Those records would have likely permitted defense counsel to show:

“Rompilla’s parents were both severe alcoholics who drank constantly. His mother drank during her pregnancy with Rompilla, and he and his brothers eventually developed serious drinking problems. His father, who had a vicious temper, frequently beat Rompilla’s mother, leaving her bruised and black-eyed, and bragged about his cheating on her. His parents fought violently, and on at least one occasion his mother stabbed his father. He was abused by his father who beat him when he was young with his hands, fists, leather straps, belts and sticks. All of the children lived in terror. There were no expressions of parental love, affection or approval. Instead, he was subjected to yelling and verbal abuse. His father locked Rompilla and his brother Richard in a small wire mesh dog pen that was filthy and excrement filled. He had an isolated background, and was not allowed to visit other children or to speak to anyone on the phone. They had no indoor plumbing in the house, he slept in the attic with no heat, and the children were not given clothes and attended school in rags.”

The lawyer's who did this case did a bang up job in turning the story from the worst thing that Rompilla did in his life to a story about how Rompilla is more than the most depraved act he ever committed. The story of an abused child. A story hinting at mental retardation. A story of a child suffering with fetal alcohol syndrome and dropping out of school. In the process the Court gave really good language about the importance of the ABA Guidelines & implied, although enver came right and said it, that if a jurisdiction wants to retain death as an option it must adequate resources for an attorney to defend against death.

- k

Posted by: karl | Jun 20, 2005 8:29:03 PM

People are being much too kind about Dodd. Every year, the Court hands down one or two 5-4 decisions in second tier cases that are so head-in-the-sand ridiculous that they would produce public rebellions if anyone understood or cared about the issues. Dodd is this term's "winner" in that category. Every single principle of statutory interpretation, every single common law presumption, every single policy consideration points to the opposite result. Congress drafted a bad statuory provision which directly conflicted with its own purposes and the other provisions of the act b/c/ it didn't understand how the courts normally operate in habeas cases. Every other Court in the history of the Republic would have understood that it was part of its job to ensure that the ridiculous result suggested by the most straight-forward reading of the statute (but contrary to Congress's interests and likely intentions) did not come to pass. Instead, we get two pages of non-argument from Justice O'Connor, relying on a blunt form of textualism that is rarely applied outside the AEDPA context. There is one word for that decision: pathetic.

Posted by: Andy Siegel | Jun 22, 2005 10:06:53 AM

I am a paralegal pro se assistant.
Just jumping back into the fray, assisting a §2255 petitioner, and just getting reaquainted with the latest kafkaesque interpretations by the SCOTUS on habeas corpus jurisprudence.
Last time I swam in the federal post conviction world, I was schooled in the Teague v. Lane era, but now just getting a gander at Dodd and Tyler.
I see now that the Court has really gone insane.
Teague was very annoying, a sloppy standard, and non-rigorous in defining its bar, but at least there was ostensibly SOME room to work with to proffer a retroactivity argument.
But now, the consolidation of power in post conviction cases is complete.
Tyler v. Cain interprets §2241(b)(2)(A) literally; there can be no retroactivity due to a change in existing legal interpretation, unless the SCOTUS explicity says so in their opinion. ("How else are we to read this statute" they lament". It is amazing how often they find they MUST read a statute by its exact wording, only when it leads to a marginalizing of a defendant's rights. If it expanded those rights, then, oh all of a sudden, you would see the S.Ct. hemming and hawing that the statute "needs common sense interpretation" and "Congress would never have written it that way if they had known the contradictory nature of its application")
The Tyler decision, essentially suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus by the Court's INACTION. All they have to do to deny what would otherwise be an unequivocal constitutional grounds for post conviction relief, is maintain their silence. This makes the writ ineffective as an affirmative right or privilege, as all Constitutional rights are supposed to be, but rather it is now one only if explicitly, in fact arbitrarily, granted by the Supreme Court.
Instead of the absolute due process presumption, that a conviction based upon an unconstitutional law is always infirm, now it is such that it makes no difference whether you were constitutionally convicted, as long as it was thought that way at the time of your conviction.
Now with Dodd, the suspension of the writ is complete, a law or rule can be found both unconstitutional and retroactively so, but relief via habeas corpus (or any other legal avenue for that matter) is barred.
Now how do you complain about this obvious unconstitutional construction of the applicability of habeas corpus? To whom? Hmmm, I dunno . . The Supreme Court maybe?
Oh yeah that’s right, they are the ones who violated the Constitution. Seems like the answer is: NO ONE. It also seems like the next notch toward the road to tyranny.
Statutory law once again supercedes Constitutional law, and will continue until the Constitution is nothing more than an empty abstraction.

Posted by: B. Gary Triestman | Jan 11, 2006 3:52:43 AM

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention a Webpage I authored.

Posted by: B. Gary Triestman | Jan 11, 2006 4:18:53 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB