Federal Habeas Cases To Watch

The Supreme Court of the United States has a surprisingly high number of federal habeas cases on the docket this term. In my own words, here are the ones I’m paying attention to and why:

Maples v. Thomas, 10-63

Issue: Can ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel excuse a procedural default?

Why Important: After direct review of a conviction, a prisoner no longer has a right to counsel. This case could establish a right to counsel on collateral review…but it probably won’t. I can still dream, right?

Oral Arguments: Occurred on Oct. 4, 2011. See here for audio and here for transcript.

*     *     *

Howes v. Fields, 10-680

Issue: Under § 2254(d)(1), is it “clearly established” that a prisoner isolated from the general population is considered to be “in custody”?

Why Important: For habeas purposes, a ruling on this issue will help flesh out when a prisoner can collaterally attack his sentence. There may be implications for Miranda as well. I’m less interested in those potential implications.

Oral Arguments: Occurred on Oct. 4, 2011. See here for audio and here for transcript.

*     *     *

Martinez v. Ryan, 10-1001

Issue: Like Maples, supra, in some respects. This case asks the Court to decide if there is a right to effective assistance of counsel during a state post-conviction proceeding that presents a prisoner with the first opportunity to raise a constitutional violation claim.

Why Important: For me, this is a companion case to Maples. Both could potentially expand right to counsel to collateral review processes.

Oral Arguments: Occurred on Oct. 4, 2011. See here for audio and here for transcript.

*     *     *

Greene v. Fisher, 10-637

Issue: At what point in the review process does a Supreme Court decision become “clearly established” under § 2254(d)(1)?

Why Important: The determination of this question could help open up federal habeas to more prisoners. Admittedly, the facts in Greene’s case are so unique that I expect a holding to be incredibly narrow. So this case might not have much long-term impact.

Oral Arguments: Occurred on Oct. 10, 2011. See here for audio and here for transcript.

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Lafler v. Cooper, 10-209

Issue: Can a prisoner obtain habeas relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in taking a plea bargain?

Why Important: Because the high majority of people accused with crimes take plea deals, effective assistance in advising on whether to take such a deal seems crucial. When attorneys give bad advice at this stage, isn’t that ineffective? The Court will decide. Note: this case is linked with another case, Missouri v. Frye, 10-444.

Oral Arguments: To be held on Oct. 31, 2011.

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Gonzalez v. Thaler, 10-895

Issue: This case larges deals with procedural matters of AEDPA. It asks the Court to determine if there was proper appellate jurisdiction and whether a petition was timely filed.

Why Important: As a Senator once said, “I’ll let you write the substance…you let me write the procedure, and I’ll screw you every time.” Love it or hate it, procedure is important. This case will flesh out the procedural requirements for seeking federal habeas relief.

Oral Arguments: To be held on Nov. 2, 2011.

*     *     *

Wood v. Milyard, 10-9995

Issues: Can a court raise sua sponte a statute of limitations bar under § 2244(d)? Does a state’s assertion that it “will not challenge” the timeliness of a petition constitute a waiver of any statute of limitations defense the state might have?

Why Important: Like Gonzalez this case will be important for the clarification it may provide to AEDPA. Not exactly the most exciting case, I know.

Oral Arguments: Not yet scheduled.


-Zachary Cloud


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