The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in a dispute concerning the proper procedures a criminal defendant must adhere to in a federal habeas corpus petition. On appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], the habeas petitioner in Jennings v. Stephens [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] was sentenced to death in state court in the late 1980s. The state court denied petitioner's habeas claim, in which he argued his counsel failed to investigate adequately evidence of his impaired mental condition. Petitioner filed a federal court habeas petition, and the district court found that petitioner made out an ineffective counsel claim, despite the state court's findings. The Fifth Circuit, however, reversed on grounds that the district court was required to adhere to the state court's findings and that petitioner's claims were time-barred for his failure to file a separate notice of appeal and Certificate of Appealability. Petitioner now raises a question that has split the federal circuits: whether a federal habeas petitioner can raise arguments in opposition to a state's appeal concerning grounds for relief not adopted by a federal district court, without first filing a separate notice of appeal and a Certificate of Appealability.
The US Supreme Court has heard a variety of criminal procedure cases recently. In February the court ruled [JURIST report] 6-3 in Kaley v. United States that a criminal defendant who has been indicted is not constitutionally entitled to contest a grand jury's finding of probable cause underlying a pre-trial seizure of assets. In December the court ruled in Kansas v. Cheever that the Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the government from introducing evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of a criminal defendant to rebut that defendant's presentation of expert testimony in support of a defense of voluntary intoxication. In November the court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Fernandez v. California, considering whether the Fourth Amendment allows police to search an individual's home based solely on a co-tenant's consent after the police arrested the objecting individual and removed him from the scene.