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March 19, 2012

SCOTUS grants cert on two capital habeas cases

As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court this morning kick off a week that has lots of criminal justice issues afoot with certiorari grants in two capital habeas cases: Ryan v. Gonzales (SCOTUSblog case page here) and Tibbales v. Carter.

According to the folks at SCOTUSblog, "Ryan is about appointment of counsel for indigent capital defendants" and Tibbales concerns whether "capital prisoners have a right to competence in habeas proceedings, and can a court order an indefinite stay of habeas proceedings." Based on these descriptions, I surmise neither of these cases are likely to be blockbusters or even to have much impact outside of the technical world of federal habeas process.  But the cases may end up providing the newer Justices with an opportunity to articulate their views on just how different death penalty all and practice should be.

UPDATE:  This new AP article provides more details on the cases the Supreme Court this morning decided to take up:

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals from two states objecting to federal court-ordered delays for death row inmates claiming serious mental health issues.... In each case, a death row inmate won an indefinite delay from federal judges based on disputed claims of mental incompetence to understand the proceedings against him and aid in his own defense.

Sean Carter was sentenced to death for raping and killing his adoptive grandmother in 1997.  Ernest Valencia Gonzales received a death sentence for a murder in Arizona in 1990.

STILL MORE:  Lyle Denniston has this new post at SCOTUSblog discussing these circuit grants, which provides this basic thematic context:

The Justices’ agreement to take on two new death-row cases brings the Court back to an exploration of the rights of individuals who have been sentenced to death in murder cases and then are found to be mentally incompetent. If they are actually insane, they cannot be executed, under the Court’s 1986 decision in Ford v. Wainwright.   The mentally retarded were also shielded from execution by the 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia.  Those rulings meant flat bans on the death penalty.   But the Court has not sorted out what other legal rights the mentally ill on death row have when, having failed in challenges in state court, they turn to federal courts to press their legal claims.

March 19, 2012 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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