Monday, November 15, 2010

Supreme Court criminal sentencing cases

The Supreme Court ruled per curiam last Monday that Federal courts could not issue writs of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinement does not violate federal law. "We have repeatedly held that 'federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law,'" the Court said, citing its 1991 decision in Estelle v. McGuire. "[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions… [and] it is only noncompliance with federal law that renders a State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts. The habeas statute unambiguously provides that a federal court may issue the writ to a state prisoner 'only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.'" 28 U. S. C. §2254(a). This in response to the Indiana-born case, Wilson v. Corcoran, 10-91.

This morning the Court spoke ruled unanimously saying that Congress did not intend in 1998 to spare individuals convicted of federal crimes from an extra sentence if they used a gun during a drug offense or a violent crime.

This morning's decision, the combined cases of Abbott v. United States, 09-479 and Gould v. U.S., 09-7073, ScotusBlog's Lyle Denniston writes, "resolves a dispute among lower courts about the effect of a 12-year-old change of the federal law that adds at least five years to a criminal's prison sentence for using or carrying a gun during either a drug crime or a crime of violence. That added period of years extends beyond any sentence for the underlying crime. Congress provided that extra punishment, the Court recalled in the decision, to punish independently for having a gun during a criminal episode."

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