The Supreme Court ruling in Ryan v. Gonzales is available in Adobe .pdf format.
"High Court: judges cannot indefinitely delay death row appeal to wait for convict’s competency," is the AP report, via the Washington Post.
The Supreme Court says federal judges cannot indefinitely delay a death row inmate’s federal appeals to see if the convict can become mentally competent enough to help his lawyer.
The high court unanimously ruled Tuesday against Arizona death row inmate Ernest Gonzales and Ohio death row inmate Sean Carter.
Inmates appealing state death sentences to federal court have a right to a lawyer. But the courts never said whether the inmates have to be mentally competent enough to help their lawyers with their federal appeals. Gonzales and Carter wanted the high court to say that federal judges have discretion to hold up proceedings indefinitely until the inmates are ready.
Courthouse News Service posts,"Incompetency Need Not Stay Habeas Proceedings." It's filed by Barbara Leonard.
Prisoners cannot use mental incompetency as a reason to suspend their bids for federal habeas relief, the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The high court looked at the issue by consolidating the cases of Sean Carter, who won relief from the 6th Circuit, and Ernest Valencia Gonzales, whose case went before the 9th Circuit.
Each federal appeals court cited a different federal law in granting stays to Carter and Gonzales, but neither maneuver passed muster Tuesday with the high court.
"Both the Ninth and Sixth Circuits have concluded that death row inmates pursuing federal habeas are entitled to a suspension of proceedings when found incompetent," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. "The Ninth Circuit located this right in §3599, while the Sixth Circuit located it in §4241. Neither section provides such a right.
"Section 3599(a)(2) guarantees federal habeas petitioners on death row the right to federally funded counsel. ... But §3599 does not direct district courts to stay proceedings when habeas petitioners are found incompetent."
The court similarly shot down the 9th Circuit's references to the precedent it set in Rohan v. Woodford and Nash v. Ryan.
"We are not persuaded by the Ninth Circuit's assertion that a habeas petitioner's mental incompetency could 'eviscerate the statutory right to counsel' in federal habeas proceedings," Thomas wrote. "Given the backward-looking, record-based nature of most federal habeas proceedings, counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas petitioner regardless of the petitioner's competence. Indeed, where a claim is 'adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings,' counsel should, in most circumstances, be able to identify whether the 'adjudication ... resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,' without any evidence outside the record. Attorneys are quite capable of reviewing the state-court record, identifying legal errors, and marshaling relevant arguments, even without their clients' assistance.
The court also took a dim view of the six-year delay that preceded Gonzales' habeas petition.
"This was certainly ample time for his attorney to research and present the claims," Thomas wrote.
Earlier coverage of the two cases begins at the link.