Friday, March 23, 2012

Arizona/Ohio death penalty cases

"A quarter century ago," ScotusBlog's Lyle Denniston wrote last Monday, "the Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional to execute a legally insane individual in Ford v. Wainwright, then extending that ban to the mentally retarded with Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

"Back in 1966, with Rees v. Peyton," his posting continued, "it ruled that federal courts should not allow a death-row inmate to give up any legal challenges while he was mentally ill. But the Court has never decided whether an individual has any right, under the Constitution or any federal law, to actually be competent in order to take part in a federal habeas review of his case or to have the case put off indefinitely – or sorted out what other legal rights the mentally ill on death row have when, having failed in challenges in state court, they turn to federal courts to press their legal claims. Now, as of Monday, in accepting new cases from Arizona and Ohio it will be addressing at least some of those issues."

Arizona's case, Ryan v. Gonzales, arose from a statute that provides a right to a lawyer for a state prison inmate who is too poor to afford one in a federal habeas case. Gonzalez, sentenced to death for a 1990 murder, later raised an issue of his competence. When state officials took the case on to the Supreme Court, Gonzalez had not yet had a competency hearing, but his habeas was on hold.

Ohio's case, Tibbals v. Carter, Denniston summated, "argues that a Sixth Circuit Court ruling ordering an indefinite delay will bring 'Ohio's capital litigation to a halt, and that under the Sixth Circuit's extraordinarily loose standards, any prisoner can make a minimal showing of incompetence, demand a hearing, and secure an indefinite stay of his habeas proceedings.'" It's urging the Supreme Court to clarify Rees v. Peyton. In that case the Court ordered a competency hearing for Virginia death-row inmate Melvin Davis Rees, Jr., before it would decide whether to allow him to withdraw his court challenge. In a brief order about a year later, it put the case on hold indefinitely, and never again returned to it. Rees died in prison in 1995."

Ryan v. Gonzales, 10-930

9th. Circuit Opinion
Petition for certiorari
Tibbals v. Carter, 11-218

6th. Circuit opinion
Petition for certiorari

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