• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court significantly restricted the conditions under which federal courts were allowed to accept second habeas corpus petitions by state prisoners sentenced to death.

During the 1960’s the Court had expanded the scope of federal habeas corpus reviews of state criminal convictions. One consequence was that death row inmates were able to file several habeas corpus petitions, each raising a different constitutional claim. After William H. Rehnquist became chief justice, however, the Court grew intolerant of long procedural delays in such cases. Following the Court’s rejection of Warren McCleskey’s first challenge to his death sentence, his lawyers filed a second habeas corpus petition, alleging that prosecutors at his trial had used incriminating statements that were made without assistance of counsel.Habeas corpus[Habeas corpus]

By a 6-3 vote, the Court rejected the claim. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy,Kennedy, Anthony M.;McCleskey v. Zant[MacCleskey v. Zant] in the opinion for the majority, insisted that a defendant must include all of his constitutional arguments in the first petition to the federal courts. To prevent abuse, the Court adopted the cause and prejudice standard, requiring the defendant to show that he or she had not raised the claim earlier because of a cause beyond his or her control and to demonstrate that the alleged errors resulted in actual prejudice. Exceptions to the cause and prejudice standard would be allowed only when the defendant could show that an error was so fundamental that it had resulted in the conviction of an innocent person.

In the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Congress made it even more difficult for defendants to file second habeas corpus petitions. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute in Felker v. Turpin[case]Felker v. Turpin[Felker v. Turpin] (1996).

Bunting v. Oregon

Capital punishment

Due process, procedural

Habeas corpus

Categories: History