West Law Report

HABEAS CORPUS JURISDICTION, SUBSTANTIVE RIGHTS, AND THE WAR ON TERROR

An article of Richard H. Fallon, Jr. and Daniel J. Meltzer in Harvard Law Review (Jun 2007) (.pdf) (84 pages):

This Article provides a broad-lens, synoptic perspective on war-on-terrorism questions arising within the habeas corpus jurisdiction of the federal courts. Analytically, it develops a clear framework for sorting out the tangle of jurisdictional, substantive, procedural, and scope-of-review issues that habeas cases often present. Methodologically, it champions a common lawike approach to habeas adjudication under which courts must exercise responsible judgment in adapting both statutory and constitutional language to unforeseen exigencies.
The Article also takes substantive positions on a number of important issues. In the jurisdictional domain, it defends the Supreme Court controversial decision in Rasul v. Bush, which interpreted the habeas statute as it then stood to authorize inquiry into the lawfulness of detentions at Guantanamo Bay. The Article also argues, however, that a court would overstep if it read the Constitution as mandating review of detentions of aliens in such wholly foreign locales as Afghanistan or Iraq. Scrutinizing post-Rasul legislation that eliminates habeas for alien detainees and substitutes more limited review in the D.C. Circuit, the Article argues that the resulting scheme is constitutionally valid as applied to most cases in which the D.C. Circuit can exercise review, but invalid insofar as it entirely precludes detainees in the United States or at Guantanamo Bay from challenging their detention or conditions of confinement before a civilian court.

With respect to substantive rights, the Article argues that American citizens seized outside of battlefield conditions have a right not to be detained indefinitely without civilian trial. It explains why the constitutional rights of noncitizens are more limited, but argues that existing statutes should not be read to authorize aliens?detention as enemy combatants when they are seized in the United States, away from any theater of combat. Finally, the Article analyzes some of the most important procedural and scope-of-review questions likely to come before habeas courts.

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.

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.

Mitigating Evidence and Death Penalty

A leading case summary of Harvard Law Review: Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman (2007) and Brewer v. Quarterman (2007) (11 pages) The two cases were consolidated.

Eighth Amendment – Death Penalty – Consideration of Mitigating Evidence

The maxim that “death is different” has long guided the Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence. In the landmark case of Lockett v. Ohio, a plurality of the Court declared that the Eighth Amendment mandates that a capital sentencing body be permitted to “consider[], as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant’s character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death.” In Penry v. Lynaugh, the Court applied the Lockett principle to a death sentence under a Texas statute mandating death if the sentencing body found that the defendant had acted deliberately and was likely to be dangerous in the future. Under that statutory regime, the jury could not necessarily consider and give effect to the mitigating force of the defendant’s mental retardation and history of childhood abuse.

Last Term, in Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman and Brewer v. Quarterman, the Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of two defendants’ death sentences under that same statute. The Court held that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) had misapplied clearly established law by refusing to invalidate the sentences when the sentencers were not permitted to give meaningful effect to the defendants’mitigating evidence: childhood neglect and impulse-control disorder in Abdul-Kabir,9and mental illness, childhood abuse, and substance abuse in Brewer. The Court therefore concluded that under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), federal habeas relief was warranted.

At first sight, the decisions in Abdul-Kabir and Brewer seemed to signal a departure from precedents granting wide deference to state court decisions where the relevant clearly established law was broad and general. In fact, however, the law that the Court invoked in these cases was much narrower than the opinions superficially suggest. Therefore, the Court’s selection of a fact-specific, highly determinative holding as the relevant clearly established law explains how the strictness of the Court’s review of the CCA’s decisions is reconcilable with precedent.