Friday, August 16, 2013
Stephanie Roberts Hartung (Suffolk University Law School) has posted Missing the Forest for the Trees: Federal Habeas Corpus and the Piecemeal Problem in Actual Innocence Cases on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The DNA exoneration data stemming from the Innocence Movement exposes a harsh reality in our criminal justice system: existing post-conviction review procedures fail to accurately identify and remedy wrongful convictions of the innocent. While the layers of review available upon conviction are seemingly exhaustive, in fact, the factually innocent prisoner is confronted with little more than a façade of protection. At the federal habeas stage, several provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [AEDPA] operate to foreclose viable claims of innocence. Further, the federal courts entertain second or successive habeas petitions in a piecemeal fashion, if they do so at all. This “piecemeal approach” negatively impacts prisoners raising claims of factual innocence, in light of their typically pro se status and incarceration. In reviewing each successive habeas petition in isolation, without regard to previous claims, the courts often miss the forest for the trees, allowing innocent prisoners to remain in custody.
This Article discusses the piecemeal problem inherent in federal habeas review procedures, provides a case illustration, and advocates for a broader reading of the “evidence as a whole” language in AEDPA’s 28 U.S.C. Section 2244(b)(2). This broader interpretation, already adopted by the Fourth Circuit, would allow courts to review a petitioner’s successive habeas claims in the aggregate, and thus, more readily identify cognizable claims of factual innocence. This Article contributes to the ongoing debate as to how the competing post-conviction interests of finality and fairness should be recalibrated in light of the DNA exoneration data brought forth by the Innocence Movement.