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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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