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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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