Back in December, the Fourth Circuit ruled on a habeas petition of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, denying relief. The case has been winding its way through federal courts for more than 40 years. I wanted to flag it for readers in this post, both as one of the more notorious North Carolina murder cases and as an opportunity to examine the legal principles of actual innocence claims in federal habeas. Fair warning, this post contains some minimal (but grisly) details of the killings. Continue reading
Tag Archives: habeas
Last Monday, North Carolina’s newly-elected sheriffs were sworn into office. A key issue in several of the campaigns was whether the candidates would or would not continue to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Incoming Sheriff Garry McFadden announced that he will be ending Mecklenburg County’s participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “287(g) program.” Incoming Sheriff Gerald Baker in Wake County likewise pledged to end his office’s participation in the 287(g) program, and incoming Sheriff Clarence Birkhead in Durham County announced that his office would no longer honor any “detainer requests” from ICE.
Coincidentally, on the same day that those elections were being held, the Court of Appeals decided Chavez v. Carmichael, __ N.C. App. __ (Nov. 6, 2018), which analyzed whether a defendant can challenge immigration detainers in state court on habeas corpus grounds. In addition to answering that central question, the Chavez decision also helps to clarify the sometimes-overlooked distinction between the 287(g) program as a whole and ICE detainers in particular, and it points out an important statutory limitation on the extent to which custodial law enforcement agencies may “decline to investigate” the immigration or residency status of a person in custody. Continue reading →
Although the General Assembly has finally wrapped up for the year, there’s still been a fair bit of news lately that may be of interest to readers of this blog.
1. First and foremost, the United States Supreme Court recently took the virtually unprecedented step of ordering a hearing on an “original” habeas petition — one filed directly with the Supreme Court, rather than in a lower court — in a Georgia capital case. Defendant Troy Davis has exhausted the usual avenues of review, but apparently has a plausible claim that he is innocent. The Court’s order is here, Justice Scalia’s dissent is here, this Time magazine article gives you the basics in a readable way, and some blog commentary is here and here. Although some prosecution-leaning folks worry, and some defense-leaning folks hope, that this signals the opening of a whole new avenue of review for capital defendants, I doubt that the Court will make a habit of ordering hearings in original habeas proceedings. Rather, the main legal significance of the case is that it may result in a ruling on whether a claim of actual innocence, unconnected to any procedural defect in a defendant’s trial, is cognizable in federal court — a surprisingly controversial issue.
2. The News and Observer published this piece about the effect of the sex offender laws on offenders’ ability to attend church. Although the article contains some legal inaccuracies, it also raises some important questions, and is worth a read.
3. In Texas, attorneys who represented a death row inmate (who has since been executed) filed a judicial standards complaint against Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The attorneys contend that Judge Keller refused to keep the clerk’s office open after its usual 5 p.m. closing time to receive a last-minute filing challenging Texas’s method of execution. As far as I can tell from this AP story, Judge Keller’s response is that the lawyers could have filed whatever they wanted to file with the “duty judge” at any time, so there was no need for the clerk’s office to remain open. Part of what makes the case interesting is that it raises the question of whether and to what extent normal procedural rules should be suspended in death penalty cases.
4. Former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress pled guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon after shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub. He received a two-year sentence, of which he’ll likely serve about 20 months. According to the AP, football fans and others are atwitter comparing his sentence to the sentences received by fellow NFLers Michael Vick (who served about 18 months in connection with federal dogfighting charges) and Donte’ Stallworth (who received probation after killing a Florida pedestrian while driving drunk).
5. Finally, a Columbus, Ohio homeless man was briefly set on fire as a result of being Tased/Tasered/hit with a Taser. He’s OK, but according to this article, he’d been huffing, and the electric current carried by Tasers can cause flammable chemicals to ignite. Be careful out there!