Supreme Court rules on 'clearly established' law for habeas petitions

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Tuesday in Greene v. Fisher [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report] that, for purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), "clearly established federal law" is limited to Supreme Court decisions "as of the time of the relevant state-court adjudication on the merits." Petitioner Eric Greene was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in a robbery of a convenience store in which the store's owner was shot and killed. At the trial, Greene objected to the admission of confessions of his conspirators and co-defendants on Confrontation Clause [Sixth Amendment text] grounds. The court allowed the confessions with Greene's name redacted. He renewed this objection on appeal, arguing on the grounds of the Supreme Court's decision in Gray v. Maryland [text], where a similarly redacted confession was deemed inadmissible. Gray was decided before Greene's conviction became final but after the state court's last decision on the merits. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that an opinion issued after a decision on the merits in state court is not "clearly established federal Law." Affirming the decision below, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

We must observe that Greene's predicament is an unusual one of his own creation. Before applying for federal habeas, he missed two opportunities to obtain relief under Gray. ... Having forgone two obvious means of asserting his claim, Greene asks us to provide him relief by interpreting AEDPA in a manner contrary to both its text and our precedents. We decline to do so, and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The court rejected Greene's arguments that it is a bedrock rule that prisoners should benefit from any ruling made before "finality."

Under the AEDPA, a federal court may not grant habeas relief to a state prisoner with respect to any claim that has been "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" unless the state-court 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." In January, the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in Harrington v. Richter [opinion, PDF] that the section of the AEDPA limiting federal review of state court decisions to decisions resulting from an unreasonable application of the law or an unreasonable determination of the facts is applicable to state court orders issued without an accompanying explanation.

 

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