Author: Kent Scheidegger

Supreme Court Takes Up Case On Federal Prisoner “Safety Valve”

In 1948, Congress decided that using habeas corpus for collateral attacks on federal criminal judgments presented too many practical problems, so it created a new “motion to vacate” procedure in 28 USC § 2255. Congress provided that the new motion would be available on any ground that made the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack. Then it barred use of habeas corpus for this purpose, but added a “safety valve” that resort to habeas corpus could still be had if the motion procedure was “ineffective or inadequate” to test the validity of the prisoner’s detention.

Collateral attacks on criminal judgments (habeas corpus for state prisoners and § 2255 for federal prisoners) grew like weeds for the next five decades until Congress clamped down in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).

Does the “safety valve” effectively negate the reforms for federal prisoners? Can they simply dance around the limits by saying the limits render the § 2255 remedy “ineffective or inadequate” and file a habeas corpus petition? The obvious answer is “no.” Congress does not enact laws with the intent that they be easily evaded. Yet, there is a circuit split, and today the Supreme Court took the question up. Continue reading . . .

Gascón Recall Update

The campaign to recall LA DA George Gascón has collected 400,000 of the needed 566,857 signatures with two months to go, Fox News reports. In practice, they need more than the minimum as some signatures will always be invalid.

Supreme Court Declines Case of Missouri Murderer

Update (5/4): The execution was carried out on the evening of May 3, CBS/AP report.

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review, again, the capital sentence of Missouri murderer Carman Deck, whose long-overdue execution is scheduled for tomorrow.

Deck and an accomplice planned to burglarize the home of an elderly couple, James and Zelma Long. They knocked on the door and pretended to need directions. After the Longs admitted them into their home, Deck pulled a gun and demanded their valuables. Even though they complied with his demands, he shot and killed both of them.

Deck had to be sentenced three times. The first sentencing was marred by an error of his own attorney, failing to object to the fact that a portion of the jury instructions was missing. The second sentencing was conducted in accordance with all the rules in effect at the time, which severely limited the shackling of defendants in the guilt phase of the trial. The rationale of that precedent was that shackling impaired the presumption of innocence, making it obviously inapplicable to the penalty trial. The U.S. Supreme Court took his case up and extended its precedent into the penalty phase, moving the goalposts after the trial. Continue reading . . .

Unqualified AG Candidate Removed from DC Ballot

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals today affirmed a trial court decision removing the leading candidate for Attorney General from the ballot. The qualification statute requires that the candidate have been actively involved for 5 of the last 10 years in the practice of law, service as a judge, being a law professor at a DC law school, or “As an attorney employed in the District of Columbia by the United States or the District of Columbia.”

The court held that legislative service as a council member by a person who happens to be an attorney does not meet the last criterion.

California requires only being a member of the bar for five years. No actual experience required. Continue reading . . .

California’s Prison Credit Mess, Explained

Retired Deputy Director of California State Parole Douglas Eckenrod explains the present mess with excessive early release credits being handed out to prisoners in this interview with California Insider on Epoch TV.

The credits are presently being challenged in two lawsuits where CJLF is representing the plaintiffs and a third being conducted by the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office on behalf of dozens of California district attorneys.

Habeas Corpus, Relitigation, and Taking Statutes Seriously

“When Congress supplies a constitutionally valid rule of decision, federal courts must follow it.” You wouldn’t think it would be necessary for the Supreme Court of the United States to say that. Everybody knows that. Don’t they? But the Court did find it necessary to say that yesterday in the case of Brown v. Davenport, No. 20-826.

Ervine Davenport was convicted of strangling Annette White to death. His case was thoroughly reviewed by the Michigan appellate courts who ultimately decided that although an error had occurred it had no effect on the outcome. As the Supreme Court has long recognized, ” ‘a defendant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one,’ for there are no perfect trials.” This is the “harmless error” rule.

The general rule in our judicial system is that once a judgment has been reviewed up the appellate chain and affirmed the case is over. With limited exceptions, you can’t go running to another court, especially one that does not have appellate jurisdiction over the court that entered the judgment, and attack the judgment by claiming that the first set of courts got it wrong.

Congress sharply narrowed one of the exceptions in 1996, blocking the lower federal courts from overturning reasonable decisions of state courts merely because they disagree with them. Is there something about the harmless error rule that makes it different so that this statute need not be applied?

The obvious answer is “of course not.” So why did this question even have to come to the Supreme Court? Continue reading . . .

Gov. Brown Tricked Voters on Prop. 57

Veteran California political commentator Dan Walters has this column at CalMatters.  The headline is, “Gov. Brown pushed for softer treatment of violent felons.” The “tricked” allegation comes farther down in the text. Here is the summary:

Fingers of blame are being pointed about the early prison release of a man accused of being one of the shooters in a downtown Sacramento gang shootout. But the politician most responsible is former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown may well be “most responsible,” but that should not let the present governor off the hook. Gov. Newsom has taken powers that Brown left him and adopted measures for the benefit of violent criminals that go considerably beyond what Brown adopted. Continue reading . . .

Does knowledge of a demographic fact equal racial bias?

Mark Twain once referred to a jury as “twelve men … who don’t know anything and can’t read.” He was exaggerating. Yet, this morning three Justices of the United States Supreme Court dissented from the Court’s refusal to take up a case of alleged juror bias for review, when the claim of bias was the juror’s statement of a demographic fact that is undeniably true. Continue reading . . .

The Practical Problems Caused by a Rogue Prosecutor’s Policies

Charles Stimson and Zack Smith of the Heritage Foundation have this series of the three videos on the impact of LA DA George Gascón’s policies.

The first is an interview with LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The second is a panel discussion with three present and former prosecutors in the office. The third is a panel discussion with mothers whose sons were murdered.

The gathering of signatures for a recall election continues.

Worry About Crime in U.S. at Highest Level Since 2016

Megan Brenan has this report for Gallup with the above title:

Americans’ concern about crime and violence in the U.S. has edged up in the past year, and for the first time since 2016, a majority (53%) say they personally worry a “great deal” about crime. Another 27% report they worry a “fair amount,” which places the issue near the top of the list of 14 national concerns — behind only inflation and the economy, and on par with hunger and homelessness.

Crime, policy, and politics have gone in a depressingly predictable cycle. The American people were pitched a bill of goods that going soft on crime could be done without increasing crime, and perhaps even lower it. Fueled by billionaire-funded campaigns and viral videos, they bought it, having forgotten the lessons of the last third of the twentieth century. Continue reading . . .