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Monday, October 17, 2005

Auspicious Beginning?

A bit of trivia: For whom did the Roberts Court rule in its historic first published opinion? It ruled in favor of convicted murderer Paul Allen Dye, who sought a writ of habeas corpus based on prosecutorial misconduct. Check out Dye v. Hofbauer, 546 U.S. ___ (2005) (per curiam) here.

Granting Dye's petition for writ of certiorari, the per curiam opinion of the Court reversed a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that had denied habeas corpus relief on two separate procedural grounds: failure to exhaust the claim in state court and failure to allege the claim with specificity in federal court. The justices overruled both procedural bars, holding the claim was both properly exhausted in state court and alleged with particularity in federal court. As to the first purported bar, the Court determined that the Sixth Circuit erroneously based its exhaustion determination on the lack of ruling on the issue by the state court, rather than on the pleading of the petitioner:

The Court of Appeals examined the opinion of the state appellate court and noted that it made no mention of a federal claim. That, however, is not dispositive. Failure of a state appellate court to mention a federal claim does not mean the claim was not presented to it. "It is too obvious to merit extended discussion that whether the exhaustion requirement . . . has been satisfied cannot turn upon whether a state appellate court chooses to ignore in its opinion a federal constitutional claim squarely raised in petitioner’s brief in the state court . . . ." Smith v. Digmon, 434 U. S. 332, 333 (1978) (per curiam).

As to the other purported bar, the Court found that "[t]he habeas corpus petition made clear and repeated references to an appended supporting brief, which presented Dye’s federal claim with more than sufficient particularity. See Fed Rules Civ. Proc. 81(a)(2), 10(c)."

Hardly a harbinger of liberalism, the Dye opinion is nevertheless an interesting and ironic beginning for the Roberts Court.