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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana decision today from 7th Circuit, a mea culpa

Corcoran v. Wilson (ND Ind., Sharp), is a 6-page per curiam opinion:

This habeas case returns to us from the Supreme Court for a second time. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 131 S. Ct. 13 (2010); Corcoran v. Levenhagen, 130 S. Ct. 8 (2009). Joseph Corcoran’s capital case has a complex history in state and federal court, which we set forth more completely in our two prior opinions, see Corcoran v. Levenhagen, 593 F.3d 547 (7th Cir. 2010), and Corcoran v. Buss, 551 F.3d 703 (7th Cir. 2008), and will repeat here only as necessary to correct the mistakes the Supreme Court has identified and get the case back on track. * * *

On remand we made two critical misjudgments—one procedural, one substantive. The procedural mistake was our decision to take up Corcoran’s remaining challenges ourselves, without further appellate briefing, rather than sending the case back to the district court so the previously unaddressed claims could be fully adjudicated there. This procedural misstep led to a substantive error, which the Supreme Court identified in its second decision. Although we rejected most of Corcoran’s remaining claims for relief, we ordered the issuance of a habeas writ based on what we said was a violation of Indiana’s death-sentencing law, without finding that this error of state law amounted to a violation of a federal right. Corcoran v. Levenhagen, 593 F.3d at 551-52, 555. The Supreme Court reminded us that “[f]ederal courts may not issue writs of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinement does not violate federal law.” Wilson v. Corcoran, 131 S. Ct. at 14; see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (“[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state court determinations on state-law questions.”), and id. at 75 (noting that a state-law evidentiary or instructional error may be grounds for federal habeas relief only if the error “so infused the trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law” (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court again granted certiorari, vacated our judgment, and remanded for further proceedings, expressing “no view about the merits of the habeas petition.” Wilson v. Corcoran, 131 S. Ct. at 17.

In hindsight we should have returned the case to the district court after the first remand from the Supreme Court. We do so now. This will permit the parties to fully air Corcoran’s remaining habeas claims and allow the district court to address them in the first instance. We note, however, that neither of the Supreme Court’s decisions casts doubt on our resolution of the issues raised in the initial appeal, in which we found no basis for habeas relief on the claimed Sixth Amendment violation or on the issue of Corcoran’s competency to waive post-conviction remedies. In his Circuit Rule 54 statement, Corcoran addresses only his remaining claims, not these two; he asks for a remand so that the district court can adjudicate the previously unaddressed grounds for habeas relief.

Accordingly, we REINSTATE and incorporate by reference our earlier opinion in Corcoran v. Buss, 551 F.3d 703, to the extent that it (1) reversed the district court’s judgment granting habeas relief on the basis of the claimed Sixth Amendment violation; and (2) affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the Indiana courts did not mishandle the issue of Corcoran’s competence to waive post-conviction remedies. As we have noted, Judge Williams joined the panel in rejecting Corcoran’s Sixth Amendment claim but filed a dissent on the competency issue, see id. at 714-18, which we also reinstate and incorporate herein by reference. We REMAND the case to the district court to permit it to address Corcoran’s remaining grounds for habeas relief.

Here is a list of ILB entries on the Corcoran case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 23, 2011 10:38 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions