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SCOTUS reverses 7th Circuit a second time on capital case

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An Indiana case has prompted the nation’s highest court to reiterate that federal courts can’t issue any writ of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinements do not violate U.S. law.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals tried that when it second-guessed the Indiana Supreme Court on a death penalty case, but the Supreme Court of the United States has shaken its proverbial finger on this litigation that’s jumped between state and federal courts through the years.

In its seven-page per curiam decision today in Bill K. Wilson, Superintendent, Indiana State Prison v. Joseph E. Corcoran, No. 10-91, the court overturned a 7th Circuit ruling from earlier this year that was based on a perceived flaw in how the Indiana Supreme Court decided the capital case.

“But it is only noncompliance with federal law that renders a State’s criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts,” the opinion says.

This is the second time the SCOTUS has reversed the 7th Circuit on this case after finding that the appellate court wrongly dismissed the death penalty imposed for the four murders in 1997. Corcoran was convicted and sentenced to die in 1999, but the Indiana Supreme Court vacated that sentence and remanded it out of concern the Allen Superior judge had 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. District Judge Allen Sharp overturned the death penalty against Corcoran’s wishes based on a Sixth Amendment violation regarding state law. Judge Sharp didn’t address any of Corcoran’s other claims on appeal. The 7th Circuit reinstated that sentence in December 2008 and ordered the federal court to deny the writ. The SCOTUS reversed that holding last year, finding that the 7th Circuit should have allowed those other remaining claims to be considered. The 7th Circuit in January granted habeas relief and ordered a full re-sentencing.

But now, the SCOTUS reverses that ruling. The justices made it clear they weren’t expressing any view on the merits of the habeas petition.

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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