West Law Report

Should the Favorable Termination Rule Apply to Individuals Who Lack Access to Habeas Corpus?

In the note of Harvard Law Review (Issue 121, Jan 2008) (.pdf) (22 pages): Defining the Reach of Heck v. Humphrey: Should the Favorable Termination Rule Apply to Individuals Who Lack Access to Habeas Corpus?

Part I examines Heck (1994) itself, as well as Preiser v. Rodriguez (1973) and Spencer v. Kemna (1998), two other cases involving the overlap between § 1983 and habeas. Part II discusses the restrictions on habeas that may operate in tandem with Heck to bar relief, and discusses the difficulties lower courts have faced in determining Heck’s breadth. Part III argues that Heck’s favorable termination rule overreaches in cases where AEDPA bars habeas relief; when the dangers associated with the overlap between habeas and § 1983 do not apply, Heck’s doctrinal foundations become much less salient. Part III also discusses the pragmatic interests at stake and concludes that they, too, support the availability of § 1983 relief. Part IV concludes.

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Death Qualification Decisions

A leading case summery of Harvard Law Review (Issue 121, Nov 2007): Uttecht v. Brown (2007) (11 pages)

Sixth Amendment — Death Qualification Decisions

Endless review of death sentences is exhausting the courts. The legislative response to this problem can be seen in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which sharply limits federal habeas review of state court decisions. The judicial response is apparent in the Supreme Court’s increasing reluctance to reverse sentences for minor errors many years after their imposition.

The Justices’ frustration with the delaying tactics of capital defendants was on display last Term in Uttecht v. Brown, in which the Court reinstated a thirteen-year-old death sentence overturned by the Ninth Circuit. The Court held that the trial judge had not abused his discretion by striking a potential juror who expressed some hesitancy to impose a death sentence under the circumstances of the case and whose removal was not objected to by defense counsel. Brown should remind appellate judges of the high degree of deference afforded to trial court determinations, particularly under circumstances that suggest the trial judge may have been relying on his observation of an individual’s demeanor. But as Congress and the Court move to curb excessive review of death sentences, it is important that lower courts not mistake more lenient standards of review on appeal for less rigorous first-order standards. Brown did not alter the standard that trial judges must apply in deciding whether to exclude a juror for cause, which remains strongly tilted toward retention of all but the most biased veniremen.