|Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, |
California Supreme Court
Tuesday, 4 September 2012
California State Supreme Court Puts Strict Limits on Habeas Petitions
The court harshly criticized the defense lawyers in In re Reno, 12 C.D.O.S. 10049, labeling various portions of their petition "untimely," "improper," "patently meritless," "grossly misleading" and based on "stock justifications." But it stopped short of issuing sanctions, as it had threatened to do before argument in the case, which had caused a storm in the capital defense bar. Instead, the court cautioned that violating its new rules, which include a 50-page limit on successivehabeas petitions, could lead to sanctions and State Bar discipline in the future.
Abusive habeas petitions "along with other factors have created a significant threat to our capacity to timely and fairly adjudicate such matters," Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for a unanimous court. "Some death row inmates with meritorious legal claims may languish in prison for years waiting for this court's review while we evaluate [other prisoners'] petitions raising dozens or even hundreds of frivolous and untimely claims."
The Sacramento-based victim rights group Criminal Justice Legal Foundation immediately hailed the new limits as "a first step to pare back the time and tax dollars wasted on unnecessary, repetitive appeals on claims that typically have nothing to do with the guilt of the murderer."
But one of the defense lawyers in the case, James Thomson of Berkeley, said the limits could lead to more litigation in federal court over unexhausted habeas claims. "When you go back to federal court you're going to be limited to what you raised in state court," he said. "It may cause a lot more problems than it solves."
The defendant in the case, who goes by the single name Reno and was previously known as Harold Ray Memro, has been on death row for 32 years and gone through eight court-appointed attorneys. He was sentenced to death in 1980 after being convicted for the throat-slashing murders of two pre-teen boys in 1978 and the strangulation and sexual assault of a 7-year-old boy in 1976.
Virtually all of the evidence against Reno is based on his confession, which he says he gave to police only because they were threatening to ram his head into a wall. Two other arrestees testified that they'd been threatened with the same beating by the same police officers. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 1985 so that Reno could conduct discovery on the officers' personnel files. But by the time of his 1987 retrial the police department had destroyed the records.
Read More: Law.com