7th Circuit sends Corcoran case back to trial court

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Following a remand from the United States Supreme Court in late 2010, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals admitted it made mistakes in its recent decision involving a convicted murderer’s appeal and sent the case to the District Court to address habeas relief claims.

This is the second time this case has been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, and both times the justices reversed the 7th Circuit’s holding. The first time the case made it before the nation’s highest court, the justices vacated the 7th Circuit’s order that the District Court deny the writ for habeas relief, writing that the 7th Circuit should have allowed the District Court to consider Joseph Corcoran’s unresolved challenges to his death sentence on remand.

In the per curiam decision released Thursday in Joseph E. Corcoran v. Bill Wilson, superintendent, Nos. 07-2093, 07-2182, the 7th Circuit admitted to making “two critical misjudgments” – one procedural and one substantive. The procedural mistake was taking up Corcoran’s challenges for habeas relief that weren’t addressed earlier by the District Court instead of sending the case back to the lower court to address them. The District Court considered only two of Corcoran’s claims for relief and held the state courts had reasonably concluded Corcoran was competent to waive his state post-conviction remedies. The District Court also held the prosecutor violated the Sixth Amendment by offering to forgo the death penalty if Corcoran would waive his right to a jury trial. It granted habeas relief on the Sixth Amendment claim and ordered Corcoran re-sentenced to anything but to death.

The judges said this procedural misstep led to the substantive error, which the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out in its November 2010 decision: Federal courts can’t issue any writ of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinements don’t violate U.S. law.

Corcoran was convicted of killing four men in 1997 and was sentenced to death. He appealed and initially waived state post-conviction relief after he was found competent to forego further challenges to his sentence. He later changed his mind and tried to file for a petition for post-conviction relief, and that’s when the case moved to federal court.

The Circuit Court reinstated and incorporated by reference its earlier opinion in Corcoran v. Buss to the extent that it reversed the District Court’s judgment granting habeas relief on the basis of the claimed Sixth Amendment violation; and it affirmed the District Court’s conclusion that the Indiana courts did not mishandle the issue of Corcoran’s competence to waive post-conviction remedies. The court also reinstated Judge Ann Claire Williams’ dissent regarding the competency issue.

The case will now be before U.S. Judge Jon DeGuilio, who replaced the late Judge Allen Sharp, to address Corcoran’s remaining grounds for habeas relief.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.