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7th Circuit: Courts wrongfully denied re-litigation

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Finding Indiana state and District courts erred in denying a convicted killer the chance to re-litigate his claim for relief from execution because he is mentally retarded, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's denial of the man's habeas petition.

Ever since Howard Allen Jr.'s conviction and death sentence in 1988, he has petitioned the state courts to consider his claim that he is mentally retarded and can't be executed. The trial court considered his mental retardation as a mitigating factor, but found it didn't outweigh the aggravating circumstances and upheld the death sentence. The Indiana Supreme Court held the 1994 state law banning the execution of the mentally retarded wasn't retroactive and didn't apply to Allen.

After the Supreme Court of the United States issued Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Allen sought relief, but the Indiana Supreme Court determined because he had already litigated his claim that he was mentally retarded as a mitigating circumstance, he couldn't re-litigate his Atkins claim. The District Court denied Allen's habeas petition without a hearing in 2006, concluding that caselaw didn't entitle Allen to habeas relief.

In Howard A. Allen Jr. v. United States of America, No. 07-2486, the 7th Circuit found the state's Supreme Court decision that Allen couldn't re-litigate his claim under Atkins was contrary to the SCOTUS holding, which recognized a difference between using mental retardation as a mitigating factor and categorically excluding mentally retarded persons from the death penalty, wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams.

In addition, because the state courts never considered Allen's evidence using the proper Atkins inquiry, it is "objectively unreasonable to conclude that Allen had a 'full and fair' hearing on his Atkins claim," she wrote.

On remand, the 7th Circuit ordered the District Court to give Allen a chance to develop the factual basis of his claim and present it at an evidentiary hearing. Then the court must determine, using Indiana's standard for mental retardation, whether Allen is entitled to relief under Atkins.

The federal appellate judges also considered Allen's arguments pursuant to Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), that he should have received a new penalty phase hearing before a jury and that the sentencing court ignored some of his mitigating evidence; and that his statements were taken in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The 7th Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court on these arguments because the federal appellate court is constrained by the Indiana Supreme Court's findings that the trial court considered the evidence, and because Allen failed to establish the state court's adjudication of his Miranda claims resulted in a decision contrary to SCOTUS precedent.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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