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January 8, 2013

SCOTUS unanimously rules against habeas suspension for incompetent petitioners

The Supreme Court handed down its first criminal justice rulings of 2013 with a unanimous habeas ruling authored by Justice Thomas in the companion cases of Ryan v. Gonzales and Tibbals v. Carter.  The full opinion is available at this link, and this is how it gets started:

These two cases present the question whether the incompetence of a state prisoner requires suspension of the prisoner’s federal habeas corpus proceedings.  We hold that neither 18 U.S.C. § 3599 nor 18 U.S.C. § 4241 provides such a right and that the Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Sixth Circuits both erred in holding that district courts must stay federal habeas proceedings when petitioners are adjudged incompetent.

UPDATE:  As noted by Bill Otis in the comments, Kent Scheidegger has this lengthy post at Crime & Consequences concerning this ruling under the title "Not Too Crazy for Habeas."  The post merits a full read, and it starts and ends this way:

In the capital appellate defense playbook, to delay is to win. If review of a capital case can be dragged out so long that the inmate dies of natural causes, that is a de facto commutation to a life sentence and hence a victory.

A gambit the defense side has been running for a while is to claim that the petitioner/inmate is too crazy to assist his lawyer in the habeas proceeding.  Hence, that proceeding must be stayed indefinitely, while the stay of execution remains in place. This argument has been accepted in the notorious 9th Circuit and "9th upside down" 6th Circuit.

Today, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed both circuits in Ryan v. Gonzales, No. 10-930, joined with Tibbals v. Carter, No. 11-218....

This is a big win for the cause of justice. Congrats to our friends at the Arizona and Ohio Attorneys General offices.

January 8, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Permalink


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sad thing is the little fucktards got this right for all the wrong reasons.

Individuals who are incompetence have no business in prison in the first place. After all that is the rule for politicians!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 8, 2013 3:27:12 PM

What a surprise. Reinhardt reversed at the 9th and Boyce Martin at the 6th.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 8, 2013 4:13:52 PM

This was a major victory for DP retentionists. In my view, it merits more than the short and bland treatment given it here. Kent tells a fuller story at http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2013/01/not-too-crazy-for-habeas.html#more

One of the most encouraging signs is that none of the liberal justices felt the need to elaborate on or even mildly dissent from Justice Thomas's justifiably frank opinion.

The SCOTUS appears to be back at its historically typical support for abolition, to wit, zero.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 8, 2013 4:38:43 PM

Ahh but let's not forget bill this decision has been brough to us by the same bunch of fucktards who ruled it was perfectly ok to lockup not-gulity people!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 9, 2013 9:50:37 AM

And once again the Supreme Court reaches a result which effectively leaves people with serious mental illnesses helpless in the criminal court system. Justice Scalia is the only Supreme Court Justice who has ever shown concern for the problems caused by the failure to impose a vigorous standard for the determination of competency to stand trial.

This is just another shameful chapter is the supposed guardians of our Constitutional rights - our governments and courts - failing their obligations towards people with disabilities. Yes, the governments do have an obligation to keep people who are dangerous due to mental illness off of the streets, but they also have an obligation to provide treatment. Failing to apply a vigorous standard for comptency to stand trial leaves people who are truly unable to help themselves at the mercy of courts - who especially when accussed a horrific crimes are not inclined to provide mercy.

This opinion will result in continued manifest injustice for people with serious mental illness who get caught up in the criminal justice system due to the failure of society to assure that they receive treatment. Essentially, the Supreme Court and the government has just turned their back on people with serious mental illnesses and assured that there cannot be equal justice.

And its sad that not one Supreme Court Justice had the courage to even in a concurrence call out the state for putting people in an impossible paradox - where they are "too sane" to avoid punishment as being not guilty by reason of insanity (and my understanding is that Arizona has effectively completely abolished the insanity defense - and ignore for a second that the consequences of an NGRI verdict are often much worse than a guilty verdict and that many NGRI verdicts are entered against defendants who are really incompetent to stand trial) but they are too insane to be able to put up any sort of meaningful defense. For a country who supposedly prides themselves on due process, the treatment of people with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system is shameful.

Apparently its much easier just to say these people committed horrible crimes and wash your hands of the matter ignoring that there are going to be thousands of people with serious mental illnesses picked up on minor charges who only receive treatment while in jail due to state budget cut backs whose rights are going to be effected. Many judges are going to seeing the lack of resources to provide treatment going to give jail sentences in these minor cases out of the belief that at least then the people are fairly safe, getting medicated, and receive shelter and food. This already happens all too often as the public mental health system has been destroyed. The urge to punish and fit everyone into a punishment box needs to recognize that many people in the criminal justice system do have serious mental illnesses which need treatment. Making it easier for states to essentially railroad people into criminal sentences because at least they will get treatment in prison and then cutting off their ability to challenge that conviction is not a good response to a serious mental health problem.

Posted by: Erika | Jan 9, 2013 10:45:25 AM

Mental incompetence should be an aggravating factor, because the defendant is far more dangerous than other defendants. That defendant should get on an accelerated track to the death penalty, to be rid of extremely dangerous people as soon as possible. Only in the upside down, Twilight Zone world of the pro-criminal lawyer would mental incompetence be shown extra privileges.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 10, 2013 11:08:49 PM

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