Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Another bad S.Ct. CJ decision

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower courts whom, IMHO got it right.  An incompetent defendant cannot aid his lawyer in habeas corpus proceedings. The chances of winning are undermined unfairly if hte defendant is incompetent.  These were both death-row cases. It looks like criminal defendants can not rely on the Court's liberals.  The case is Ryan v. Gonzalez.

"This decision, in plain English:

An individual who is convicted of a crime in state court has a number of opportunities to challenge the conviction and the sentence, first in state court and, if that is unsuccessful, in a federal court. In federal court, that right is found in the ancient promise that a person being held in captivity by the government has a right to compel the government to justify that detention. That is called the right to a “writ of habeas corpus” — a Latin phrase that generally translates as “you have the body” and must justify holding it.

If lawyers for a state prisoner have taken the case into federal court, the case plays out there under a series of legal rules. Sometimes, those rules are not entirely clear, and courts have to clarify them. In two cases decided on Tuesday, the Supreme Court was asked to clarify those rules when the state prisoner involved in the case is found to have become mentally incompetent, and thus is unable to help his lawyer pursue the legal challenge to his conviction and sentence. Two federal appeals courts had ruled that, if the prisoner has in fact become incompetent, the federal case should simply be put on hold until that individual regains mental competence. Without the capacity to aid his lawyer, the prisoner’s challenge is essentially undermined, and so is his right to a lawyer, those lower courts ruled.

The Supreme Court decided unanimously that the lower courts were wrong. There is no constitutional right to have a lawyer at all during federal court review of state convictions, so any right to a lawyer, and the consequences of having access to a lawyer, must depend upon whether there is a federal law that promises legal assistance while an individual is mentally incompetent. There is no such law, the Court ruled, that assures that an individual has a right to aid his lawyer during the federal proceeding when the individual is incompetent, so there is no right to have the case put on hold until the individual might regain the mental capacity to participate.

In reaching its decision, the Court noted that it had once put a Virginia state prisoner’s case on hold for twenty-eight years, because the man was incompetent. But it concluded that the actions it took in that case did not set a precedent for delaying a federal case involving a state prisoner who had become incompetent"

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