Sentencing/Post Conviction

Prisoner who can’t show 'factual innocence' isn't entitled to habeas relief, 5th Circuit says

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AP Charles Ray Crawford mugshot

Death row inmate Charles Ray Crawford in April 2013. Photo from the Mississippi Department of Corrections via the Associated Press.

A Mississippi inmate’s habeas appeal is doomed because of U.S. Supreme Court decisions remarking that federal courts have discretion to deny relief as “law and justice require,” a federal appeals court ruled last month.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans ruled Dec. 15 that inmate Charles Ray Crawford isn’t entitled to habeas relief because he can’t show “factual innocence.”

“Law and justice do not require habeas relief—and hence a federal court can exercise its discretion not to grant it—when the prisoner is factually guilty,” the appeals court said in an opinion by Judge Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

Vox noted the decision in an opinion column calling the 5th Circuit decision “completely lawless.”

The 5th Circuit cited two “landmark habeas decisions” issued by the Supreme Court in 2022: Brown v. Davenport (on two requirements for habeas relief) and Shinn v. Ramirez (restricting evidentiary hearings in ineffective assistance cases).

The 5th Circuit cited language in Davenport that said “Congress invested federal courts with discretion when it comes to supplying habeas relief,” and courts should grant relief only as “law and justice require.”

Ramirez “doubled down on the proposition” that satisfying the requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act is not sufficient to obtain habeas relief, the 5th Circuit said. Even if the law is satisfied, the Supreme Court said, a prisoner “is never entitled to habeas relief. He must still persuade a federal habeas court that law and justice require it.”

The two cases require a two-prong framework, the 5th Circuit said.

“The first prong is business as usual: whether the state prisoner satisfies AEDPA and the usual equitable and prudential doctrines,” according to Oldham. “The second prong is whether law and justice require granting habeas relief.”

Crawford “unquestionably raped a 17-year-old girl,” the appeals court said. At most, he asserts that he wasn’t legally responsible because he was insane at the time of the crime. That defense failed at trials for the rape, for the assault of a 16-year-old girl with a hammer, and for the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman while he was out on bond.

“There is thus no colorable reason to think that Crawford is insane, much less that he is factually innocent,” the appeals court said.

The case is Crawford v. Cain.

See also: “Chemerinsky: Supreme Court imposes further restrictions on habeas corpus”


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