To address a problem that threatens “to undermine the efficacy of the system for adjudicating petitions for collateral relief in cases involving the death penalty,” the California Supreme Court used the case of In re Reno (Aug. 30, 2012, S124660) to establish new “ground rules” when exhaustion of state remedies requires the petitioner to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in its court.
These new rules are aimed at speeding up the supreme court’s consideration of exhaustion petitions “without unfairly limiting petitioners from raising (and exhausting) justifiably new claims.”
Here are the new rules:
1. A petitioner sentenced to death will still be able to file his or her initial habeas corpus petition with no limit as to length; later petitions will be limited to 50 pages (or 14,000 words if produced on a computer), subject to a good cause exception.
2. Petitions must clearly and frankly disclose all of the following information in a table or chart of not more than 10 pages (which won’t count against the 50-page limit) that must accompany the petition:
- what claims have been raised and rejected before, and where (either on appeal or on habeas corpus, with citations);
- what claims could have been raised before, and why they weren’t raised earlier;
- what claims have not already been presented to the supreme court; and
- which claims were deemed unexhausted by the federal court and are raised for exhaustion purposes, as supported by copy of the federal court‘s order.
3. A petitioner may elect to submit for the supreme court’s consideration, in a short table or chart, some or all of the claims deemed unexhausted by the federal court. This summary presentation may be a brief statement of the issue and reasons why procedural bars may not apply.
As would be expected, there have been different reactions to the court’s new rules. A Law.com article quotes a Sacramento-based victim rights group as calling the new limits “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.”
By contrast, one of the defense lawyers in the Reno case, James Thomson of Berkeley, told Law.com that the limits “may cause a lot more problems than [they] solve.”
For everything you need to know about the prerequisites to seeking federal habeas corpus relief, turn to CEB’s Appeals and Writs in Criminal Cases, chap 14.
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