Federal Courts - Habeas Corpus - Fourth Circuit Fails to Reach a Judgment on the Merits of a Constitutional Claim Based on the State Procedural Default Doctrine

Harvard Law Review, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Federal Courts - Habeas Corpus - Fourth Circuit Fails to Reach a Judgment on the Merits of a Constitutional Claim Based on the State Procedural Default Doctrine


FEDERAL COURTS--HABEAS CORPUS--FOURTH CIRCUIT FAILS TO REACH A JUDGMENT ON THE MERITS OF A CONSTITUTIONAL CLAIM BASED ON THE STATE PROCEDURAL DEFAULT DOCTRINE. -- McNeill v. Polk, 476 F.3d 206 (4th Cir. 2007).

Recent years have seen a tremendous cutback in the availability of federal habeas review for state prisoners. This trend is the product of Supreme Court jurisprudence (1) and congressional action (2) requiring state prisoners to surmount numerous challenges before federal courts will review their constitutional claims. In addition to the maze of constitutional and statutory restrictions, there are also prudential doctrines that create further hurdles for claimants. Recently, in McNeill v. Polk, (3) the Fourth Circuit relied on the prudential doctrine of procedural default (4) in declining to review the merits of a due process claim, thereby denying habeas relief to a state prisoner facing the death penalty. The court, however, failed to assess properly the applicability of the state procedural default doctrine by overlooking considerations that its own prior decisions and the Supreme Court recently addressed. In doing so, the court, as a full panel, (5) did not reach the merits of a constitutional claim brought by an individual sentenced to death. With its decision, the court compounded the confusion as to when a state procedural default is an adequate state ground to preclude federal habeas review and, moreover, affirmed the death sentence of an individual without reaching a judgment on the merits of his constitutional claim.

In 1992, John McNeill forcibly entered the apartment of his ex-girlfriend Donna Lipscomb and, after an argument, stabbed Lipscomb twelve times in the chest, back, arms, abdomen, and breast. (6) When the police arrived, McNeill readily admitted to the stabbing. (7) At trial, a jury found McNeill guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree burglary. (8) During a recess in the sentencing deliberations, one of the jurors consulted a dictionary to determine the meaning of the term "mitigate" and proceeded to share the dictionary definition with fellow jurors. (9) At sentencing, the jury found one aggravating circumstance, two statutory mitigating circumstances, and seven nonstatutory mitigating factors; after weighing these considerations, the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for the murder charge. (10) Accordingly, the trial court sentenced McNeill to death for the murder conviction. (11) McNeill's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal by the North Carolina Supreme Court, (12) and his petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court was denied. (13)

McNeill then initiated state postconviction proceedings by filing a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) with the Cumberland County Superior Court. (14) McNeill raised multiple ineffective assistance of counsel claims, (15) as well as two juror misconduct claims, one of which alleged that a juror's consultation with outside sources during deliberation violated his right to due process. (16) McNeill sought to support this claim with two affidavits containing hearsay and an unsworn, signed statement by the juror. (17) The MAR court concluded that the juror misconduct claims were procedurally defaulted because McNeill had failed to comply with a state rule requiring that "[a] motion for appropriate relief ... must be supported by affidavit or other documentary evidence." (18) Specifically, the MAR court interpreted the rule to require admissible evidence, and McNeill's claims--supported only by hearsay and an unsworn statement-were inadmissible evidence. (19) In the alternative, the MAR court reviewed the substance of McNeill's juror misconduct claims and found that they failed on the merits. (20) Accordingly, the MAR court denied relief. After the state supreme court declined review, (21) McNeill filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, which the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina denied. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Federal Courts - Habeas Corpus - Fourth Circuit Fails to Reach a Judgment on the Merits of a Constitutional Claim Based on the State Procedural Default Doctrine
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.