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Judge allows Corcoran to appeal denial of habeas corpus

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Joseph Corcoran, who has been sentenced to death for killing four men in 1997, will be allowed to appeal the denial of his petition for habeas corpus to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. Judge Jon DeGuilio in the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, granted a certificate of appealability on one of the grounds Corcoran raised for relief. DeGuilio, who received Corcoran’s case from the 7th Circuit on remand, denied Corcoran’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in January.

Corcoran’s case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States twice and both times the justices reversed the 7th Circuit’s holdings. The first time, 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 Corcoran’s unresolved challenges to his death sentence on remand.

In November 2010, the SCOTUS reiterated that federal courts can’t issue any writ of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinements do not violate U.S. law.

Corcoran was sentenced to death in 1999, but the Indiana Supreme Court vacated the sentence and remanded out of concern that the trial judge violated state law by partly relying on non-statutory aggravating factors when imposing the death penalty. The trial judge issued a revised sentencing order, and the state justices in 2002 found that was sufficient to affirm the sentence. They later denied any post-conviction relief and Corcoran turned to the federal court system. The late U.S. Judge Allen Sharp reversed Corcoran’s death sentence, which the 7th Circuit reinstated in 2008.

On March 27, DeGuilio granted the certificate of appealability pertaining to Corcoran’s allegations that the trial court relied on non-statutory factors in a way that violated the federal constitution, and that the trial court refused to consider mitigating evidence.

“The first sub-issue essentially hinges on interpreting the trial court’s written statement, contained in the amended sentencing order, that it did not rely on non-statutory factors. This court concluded that the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision to take the trial court at its word was reasonable, but, as with any question of ‘reasonableness,’ other jurists might well disagree, or at least find that there is room for debate,” DeGuilio wrote.

“The second sub-issue essentially hinges on the distinction between refusing to consider mitigating evidence, and refusing to consider evidence to be mitigating. It is more than a word game – the former is prohibited by law, but the latter is perfectly acceptable. Nonetheless, it is a fine distinction, and while this court interpreted the trial court’s actions to fall into the later category, a reasonable jurist might find room for debate.”

DeGuilio noted that Corcoran hadn’t asked for a certificate of appealability with respect to his challenge of the constitutionality of the Indiana sentencing statute itself, which the judge would not have granted because the statute is “clearly constitutional.”

 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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