For those that know Terry or have read his memoir, Heinous, Atrocious and Cruel (see it there in the left sidebar), you know that he is very concerned about mentally challenged individuals being sentenced to death not just in Florida but elsewhere in this country.
Which means we’ll be carefully following two cases that are now pending before the United States Supreme Court – they’ve granted review in both and oral arguments should be happening in the Fall. One comes out of Ohio; the other out of Arizona.
The two cases? Ryan v. Gonzalez (follow online here).and Tibbals v. Carter (follow online here). By granting writ here, the High Court will determine if mentally incompetent individuals who are already on Death Row are entitled under the law to a stay of federal habeas proceedings because they cannot effectively assist their counsel.
In the lower court appellate opinions, both cases held that the individual needs to be mentally competent in order for there to be federal habeas proceedings. In both cases, stays were ordered with no end date. Now, the High Court has responded to requests by the states (prosecutors) that these stays be terminated and the proceedings move forward.
Precedent to consider?
Rees v. Peyton (1966)
Ford v. Wainwright (1986) – insanity means no death penalty
Atkins v. Virginia (2002) – "mental retardation" (phrase from the case itself) means no death penalty
Several years after Gonzales’s counsel initiated federal habeas proceedings and filed an exhaustive petition seeking relief, counsel asserted that Gonzales was incompetent to communicate rationally and the proceedings should be indefinitely stayed pending possible restoration of competency. Based on 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2), the Ninth Circuit agreed, even though Gonzales’s claims were record-based or purely legal.
Did the Ninth Circuit err when it held that 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2)-which provides that an indigent capital state inmate pursuing federal habeas relief "shall be entitled to the appointment of one or more attorneys"-impliedly entitles a death row inmate to stay the federal habeas proceedings he initiated if he is not competent to assist counsel?
1. Do capital prisoners possess a "right to competence" in federal habeas proceedings under Rees v. Peyton, 384 U.S. 312 (1966)?
2. Can a federal district court order an indefinite stay of a federal habeas proceeding under Rees?