Thursday, June 28, 2007
In Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-6407, the court awarded a new day in court to a Texas death row inmate who seeks federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that he is incompetent to be executed. According to his experts, the petitioner understands that he is to be put to death and the factual predicate for it, but he is under a delusion that the true reason for his death sentence is state officials' desire to silence his preaching. The 5-4 court concluded that the Texas courts failed to provide the petitioner with the procedures he was due under the Constitution.
The court also held that the Fifth Circuit used an improperly restrictive test in rejecting the incompetency claim on the merits. It said it is a mistake to treat a prisoner's delusional beliefs as irrelevant so long as he comprehends that the state has identified the link between his crime and the punishment to be inflicted.
Along the way, the court held that a state prisoner who seeks federal habeas relief on the ground that he is incompetent to be executed, but who previously filed a petition that failed to raise that claim, need not satisfy the gatekeeping requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for presenting a new claim in a second or successive petition. [Mark Godsey]