7th Circuit affirms writ of habeas corpus

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On remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's conditional grant of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus for a man facing the death penalty.

The SCOTUS found the 7th Circuit was wrong to dispose of Joseph Corcoran's death penalty challenges without any explanation and vacated the December 2008 ruling by the Circuit Court. Corcoran was sentenced to death for killing four people in 1997.

U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp in South Bend overturned Corcoran's death sentence in April 2007 and found the prosecutor inappropriately punished the man by pursuing the death penalty after Corcoran had declined to accept a bench trial and chose to have a jury hear his case.

The District Court granted the petition and ordered the state to re-sentence him within 120 days to anything but death. The 7th Circuit upheld his death sentence in December 2008, ruling the sentence didn't violate his jury trial rights under the Sixth Amendment and that he was competent to waive post-conviction proceedings. The Circuit Court reversed the judge's granting of habeas relief, and ruled that Indiana was at liberty to reinstate the death penalty.

That decision in 2008 omitted discussion of Corcoran's four other challenges he raised in District Court - the Indiana trial court improperly considered non-statutory aggravating circumstances and failed to consider six mitigating circumstances; the state's capital sentencing statute was unconstitutional; the prosecution committed misconduct in closing arguments; and he shouldn't be executed because he suffers from a mental illness.

In Joseph E. Corcoran v. Mark Levenhagen, superintendent, Nos. 07-2093, 07-2182, the Circuit Court examined those four challenges and found all of his remaining habeas challenges are waived and three of those are frivolous. However, the 7th Circuit found Corcoran's challenge regarding the use of non-statutory aggravating circumstances entitled him to a new sentencing hearing.

Corcoran claimed that the Indiana trial court considered non-statutory aggravating circumstances, such as his future dangerousness and his victims' innocence, in contravention of state law. The trial court stated it relied only on proven statutory aggravators, which the Indiana Supreme Court upheld.

The trial court added weight to a statutory aggravator based on the non-statutory aggravators, wrote Judge William J. Bauer.

"And factor weighting is part of factor 'balancing,' the very process in which the trial court disclaimed reliance on non-statutory aggravators," he continued.

The Circuit judges found this to be an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the trial court's proceedings and warranted habeas relief. The judges also noted Indiana could adopt a rule that would allow them to use non-statutory aggravators in the death sentence selection process.

The trial court must also consider Corcoran's age at the time of the murders as a mitigating factor in order to cure a different fact-finding error by the Indiana Supreme Court. At no time did the trial court offer an explanation for rejecting his age as non-mitigatory, as was required by Indiana law, wrote Judge Bauer.

"Thus, the Indiana Supreme Court's finding of fact, that the trial court 'analyzed' and 'rejected' Corcoran's age in its sentencing order, was obviously in error, because the sentencing order makes no mention of Corcoran's age except to note that Corcoran proffered it as a mitigator," he continued.

In fact, the Indiana Supreme Court failed to cure this oversight by itself in evaluating his age as a mitigator. The state's highest court had weighted his age under an abuse-of-discretion standard instead of the more searching standard required under Indiana law, wrote Judge Bauer.

The Circuit Court modified the order of the District Court's conditional grant for a writ of habeas corpus to grant the writ unless within 120 days the state court holds a new sentencing hearing in accordance with the opinion.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.