“In a decision announced today, the California Supreme Court held that the lengthy, repetitive habeas corpus petitions filed in most death penalty cases are an abuse of the process. The court held that lawyers representing condemned murderers need not raise every conceivable issue to adequately serve their clients, following the lead of the United States Supreme Court and flatly rejecting the contrary position of the American Bar Association.
“The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation had joined the case In re Reno at the invitation of the California Attorney General to submit argument encouraging today’s decision.
“Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Kathryn Werdegar noted, “To raise a multitude of untimely claims without making a plausible effort to demonstrate a proper justification of timeliness, or without any justification at all, is an example of abusive writ practice.”
“Every condemned murderer gets a direct appeal to the California Supreme Court for a review of the trial record. He further gets an attorney appointed for a second review, called habeas corpus, in which he can bring in facts outside the trial record. Today’s decision involves additional habeas corpus petitions after the first. The capital defense bar has adopted a tactic of routinely burying the courts with massive petitions raising hundreds of claims, including claims already rejected in prior reviews of the case and claims that simply put a new spin on previously known facts. Very rarely is there any question that the defendant committed the killing.
“In today’s decision, the Court has taken a first step to pare back the time and tax dollars wasted on unnecessary, repetitive appeals on claims that typically have nothing to do with the guilt of the murderer,” said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.
“The case involves successive petitions for repeated reviews of claims against a death sentence, some of which have already been reviewed and rejected. Harold Memro, a pedophile, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1976 murders of two Los Angeles area boys, aged 10 and 12, and the 1978 kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a 7-year-old boy. During police questioning, Memro confessed to slitting the throats of the first two boys and strangling the third boy with a clothesline. In 1985, a California Supreme Court decision authored by Chief Justice Rose Bird overturned the conviction and sentence, finding that the trial judge had improperly denied the defense the opportunity to investigate complaints against the police officers who questioned Memro. Two years later, another jury convicted Memro of the murders and again sentenced him to death. The California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence in 1995. A year later, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear Memro’s appeal.”