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Ovid (2709)

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Stuff with the Perl Foundation. A couple of patches in the Perl core. A few CPAN modules. That about sums it up.

Journal of Ovid (2709)

Sunday January 25, 2004
04:52 PM

Innocence is No Excuse

[ #17001 ]

In the case Herrera v. Collins, the defendant petitioned for habeas relief claiming new evidence showed he was innocent. Unfortunately, Texas law has a thirty day deadline (after initial sentencing) for filing an appeal based upon new evidence. After that month, you're out of luck. The Supreme Court denied Herrera's claim and upheld Texas law. They wrote "Federal habeas courts do not sit to correct errors of fact, but to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the Constitution."

This is usually interpreted to mean that it is not unconstitutional to put an innocent man to death so long as he has received a fair trial.

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  • I can't speak to the Texas law you cite, but the purpose of a federal habeas relief proceeding is to determine if you were properly jailed, that the evidence existed against you to jail you, that you got a fair trial. This all happened. There was no question of it. Coming up with new evidence later is a matter for the lower courts to deal with, not for federal habeas relief, which is concerned with what happened in an actual trial.
    • You're interpretation of habeas corpus is perfectly correct. However, it creates a curious dilemma in this case. The court ruled that the presumption of innocence is removed once a person is found guilty. At that point, the burden is no longer on the prosecution to "reprove" that someone is guilty, but rather it's on the defendant to prove that he or she is innocent.

      So far, everything seems perfectly reasonable to me. However, we now have a curious facet of Texas law. Because defendants are only allo

      • I agree it is troubling, but I cannot fathom the chaos that would ensue if federal courts started evaluating evidence that state courts would not accept, to determine if there is a Constitutional violation. Defense attorneys would kill for this to become law, because they'd never be out of work ever again.

        Similarly, SCOTUS overturning the Texas law here -- that disallows new evidence after 30 days -- is a pretty scary proposition. On what grounds? Is the law itself really unconstitutional? I'd be loath
        • The problem here is that the introduction of evidence could not be argued at the state level because Texas law forbids state courts to consider the evidence. It was because of that law that Herrera was forced to appeal to a District Court. However, I think there are valid concerns about denying a federal role in considering a fair trial.

          Federal judges, barring impeachment and subsequent removal from office, hold their positions for life. Theoretically, this frees them from political pressures. State

          • State judges, on the other hand, are subject to political pressure and thus have the conflict that issuing legally correct rulings may cost them their jobs.

            But that is not an issue for the federal court to consider, unless the federal government is prepared to mandate how judges must be selected by the states, which isn't going to happen any time soon.
        • Defense attorneys would kill for this to become law, because they'd never be out of work ever again.

          That's one way to increase your customer base. (Emphasis mine.)