Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Inmates' Federal Court Access Restricted by Decision

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Inmates' Federal Court Access Restricted by Decision

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court further limited state prison inmates' access to federal courts yesterday, ruling that prisoners generally cannot pursue claims they did not raise before their states' highest courts.

Ruling 6-3 against an Illinois man convicted of rape, the justices acknowledged their decision may boost the number of appeals to states' top courts. The increased burden "may be unwelcome in some state courts," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote.

The ruling continued a decadelong trend in which the justices have narrowed state inmates' access to federal courts.

O'Connor wrote that if a state allows an inmate to ask the state's highest court to review a claim, the prisoner cannot bypass that step before going to federal court.

The ruling will force inmates "to go through an extra and largely meaningless step" before appealing to federal court, said Edward M. Chikofsky of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which supported Illinois defendant Darren Boerckel's appeal.

States' top courts grant review to only about 3 percent of all criminal appeals not involving the death penalty, Chikofsky said.

The decision means Boerckel will get no federal court hearing on part of his challenge to 1976 convictions in the rape of an 87-year-old woman.

Boerckel contended his signed confession was unlawfully obtained by police in Montgomery County, Ill. He said he was denied adequate legal help and that his trial was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct.

Boerckel was convicted of rape, burglary and aggravated battery and sentenced to 20 to 60 years.

His first appeal, which raised seven issues, was rejected by an intermediate state court. Boerckel said his ensuing appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court raised only three of those issues because that court discourages litigants from raising every conceivable claim. …

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