Academic journal article William and Mary Law Review

How Wide Should the Actual Innocence Gateway Be? an Attempt to Clarify the Miscarriage of Justice Exception for Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings

Academic journal article William and Mary Law Review

How Wide Should the Actual Innocence Gateway Be? an Attempt to Clarify the Miscarriage of Justice Exception for Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings

Article excerpt

"The criminal goes free, if he must, but it is the law that sets him free." (1)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
  I. HABEAS CORPUS GENERALLY
     A. Historical Context
     B. The Requirements of the AEDPA and the Resulting
        Effect on Petitions for Federal Habeas Corpus
     C. Additional Reasons To Clarify the Standard for Relief
        Based on a Claim of Actual Innocence
 II. THE STATE OF THE LAW ON THE ACTUAL
     INNOCENCE EXCEPTION TODAY
     A. The Gateway: An Exception to Showing
        Cause and Prejudice
     B. The Schlup Decision
     C. The Resulting Split Among the Circuits
     D. The Supreme Court's Failure To Clarify
III. THE "NEWLY DISCOVERED" VERSUS "NEWLY PRESENTED"
     STANDARDS
     A. Suggestions from Prior Decisions
        1. Justice O'Connor's Concurring Opinion in Schlup
        2. Recognition of the Importance of O'Connor's
           Concurrence in Griffin v. Johnson
        3. Implications of the Courts' Emphasis on the
           Strictness of the Standard
        4. The Specific Wording Used by the Court in Schlup
     B. Policy Concerns
        1. Technology in the Courtroom
        2. Counsel's Obligation To Use Due Diligence
        3. The Interest in Finality and Comity
        4. The Ever-Present Interest in Justice
 IV. INSIGHT FROM STATE LAW
  V. THE SOLUTION: UNIFORM ADOPTION OF THE "NEWLY
     DISCOVERED" STANDARD

INTRODUCTION

Despite its numerous constitutional and statutory safeguards, the criminal justice system in America is far from perfect. Juries unfortunately convict individuals of crimes they did not commit. Take, for instance, the story of Beverly Monroe. Monroe's freedom was taken away on November 2, 1992, when a jury found her guilty of murdering her long-time boyfriend. (2) On March 5, 1992, Monroe discovered her boyfriend dead with a gun in his hand. (3) The prosecution immediately focused on Monroe, despite the lack of forensic evidence connecting her to the murder and the fact that she had a legitimate alibi. (4) Monroe served nearly seven years of her sentence before a district judge granted her freedom in a federal habeas corpus proceeding, finding that the prosecution had suppressed material, exculpatory evidence. (5) On March 26, 2003, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the grant of habeas relief. (6)

Monroe's case is an exceptional one, and cases such as hers are becoming fewer and farther between, especially with relatively recent technological advances in forensic evidence, such as DNA testing. (7) The possibility for wrongful conviction, however, is nevertheless present in America, and the courts of this country take this risk seriously. (8) Due to this ever-present risk, post-conviction procedures are elaborate and attempt "to ensure not only that a trial was fair, but also that no individual has been wrongly convicted." (9) This Note addresses a very specific procedure for relief on the ladder of postconviction safeguards: the actual innocence gateway, an exception to the doctrine that a procedurally barred petitioner may not petition for federal habeas relief without a showing of cause and prejudice. (10) The Monroe court did not base its decision on this exception because of the success of Monroe's Brady claim, (11) but a failure to satisfy a procedural requirement below may have likely led Monroe's counsel to attempt to utilize the actual innocence exception before a federal habeas court. Though cases like Monroe's are relatively uncommon, it is nonetheless important for petitioners to understand the processes and procedures along the postconviction pathway as they make their arguments for habeas relief.

Habeas corpus is the primary method for state prisoners to challenge the legality of their convictions in federal court, (12) and various policies, values, and considerations come into play during a federal habeas proceeding. (13) Among these considerations is the underlying notion that '"habeas corpus is, at its core, an equitable remedy. …

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