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Supreme Court justice cites Wayne Law Review article in majority opinion
January 14, 2013
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas cited a 2004 Wayne Law Review article when he delivered the opinion of the Court in Ryan v. Valencia Gonzales on Jan. 8.
The article, “Not to Decide Is to Decide: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Thirty-Year Struggle with One Case About Competency to Waive Death Penalty Appeals” (49 Wayne Law Review 885)was written by Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Professor Phyllis Crocker, a recognized authority on the death penalty and a former interim dean at Cleveland-Marshall.
Ryan v. Valencia Gonzales originated in 1999 in Arizona, where Ernest Valencia Gonzales was convicted on a number of charges, including felony murder, and sentenced to death.
After exhausting state remedies, Gonzales filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court. His counsel moved to stay the proceedings, contending that Gonzales was no longer mentally competent enough to communicate rationally and assist with the case. The court denied the stay, and Gonzales filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That court granted the request, suspending the proceedings. The Arizona Department of Corrections appealed.
In March, the high court agreed to hear the case. The question was whether a state prisoner has a statutory right to competence in federal habeas corpus proceedings. The appellate court had concluded that death row inmates were entitled to a stay when found incompetent. The Supreme Court reversed that decision on Jan. 8.
By law, a defendant has the right to counsel at trial and to be considered competent to assist that counsel at trial, not for federal habeas proceedings, Thomas said.
“Given the backward-looking, record-based nature of most federal habeas proceedings, counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas petitioner regardless of the petitioner’s competence,” he wrote…”Attorneys are quite capable of reviewing the state-court record, identifying legal errors, and marshaling relevant arguments, even without their clients’ assistance.”
He cited The Wayne Law Review article, which focused on Rees v. Peyton, a death penalty case in which the proceedings were stayed after Rees was found incompetent to waive his appeal. The 1965 case essentially was held in abeyance for 30 years by a one-sentence Supreme Court order, until Rees died of natural causes in 1995 when the Court at last dismissed the case.
“The unique, one-sentence order in Rees II offered no rationale for the decision to hold Rees’ petition,” Thomas wrote. “As a result, Rees offers no support for federal habeas petitioners seeking to stay district court proceedings or for the Ninth Circuit’s opinions in … this case.”