Herrera v. Collins Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Petitioner Herrera was convicted for the murder of two officers. As his execution approached, he produced evidence that he was innocent, and that another was responsible.

Facts of the case

“On September 29, 1981, Officers Enrique Carrisalez and David Rucker were shot within several minutes of each other in a rural part of Texas along the Mexico border known as “the Valley.” Enrique Hernandez, who was riding along in Officer Carrisalez’s squad car, was an eyewitness to Carrisalez’s shooting. The shootings led to a massive hunt for the killer across the Valley. The police arrested Leonel Herrera on October 4, 1981 near Edinburg and took him to the police station. During a heated exchange, Herrera struck a police officer and was restrained. When defense counsel arrived several hours later, Herrera was badly beaten, unconscious, and partly paralyzed

  • he was subsequently transported to a hospital emergency room. Officer Carrisalez died soon thereafter.The police discovered evidence at the scene of arrest implicating Herrera in both murders. The car pulled over by Carrisalez was registered in the name of Herrera’s live-in girlfriend, and Herrera had a set of keys to that car when he was arrested. The police found drops of Type A blood on jeans recovered from a laundry room and in Herrera’s wallet. They also found a letter in Herrera’s pocket with Herrera’s fingerprints
  • the letter contained apparent confessions to both murders. Hernandez could not specifically identify Herrera from an array of six photographs, but later identified him as the shooter when presented with a mug shot. Herrera was convicted of the murder of Officer Carrisalez, and pleaded guilty to the murder of Trooper Rucker.Herrera filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming actual innocence and alleging that various Valley police officials were involved in the drug trade and were working with the person actually responsible for the murders, Raul Herrera. The trial court denied relief. Herrera filed another petition, presenting the affidavit of Raul Herrera’s son that he witnessed the killings and that Herrera did not commit them. The district court dismissed most of Herrera’s claims, but granted a stay of execution as to his claim of innocence. The Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, vacated the stay of execution, agreeing with Texas that innocence was irrelevant to Herrera’s petition.”

    Question

    Whether a showing of innocence requires a federal habeas proceeding under the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments.

    Answer

    “No. The Supreme Court of the United States admitted that the notion that the Constitution prohibits the execution of a person who is innocent has an elemental appeal. However, the Supreme Court had to take into account that guilt and innocence ‘must be determined in some sort of a judicial proceeding.
    The Supreme Court first established that the presumption of innocence disappears after conviction. In this case, petitioner claims that evidence never presented to the trial court proves him innocent notwithstanding the verdict. Simply put, the petitioner is simply not entitled to habeas relief based on the reasoning of this line of cases. For he does not seek excusal of a procedural error so that he may bring an independent constitutional claim challenging his conviction or sentence, but rather argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because newly discovered evidence shows that his conviction is factually incorrect. The Court ultimately concluded that the evidence, coming 10 years after petitioner’s trial,

  • “”>

    Conclusion

    “The Court held that Herrera’s claim of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence was not a ground for federal habeas corpus relief absent an independent constitutional violation. According to the Court, the State met its burden of proving that the inmate was guilty of the capital murder beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Thus, the inmate did not come before the courts as one who was “”innocent,”” but as one who had been convicted by due process of law. The Court posited that Texas’ refusal to entertain Herrera’s newly discovered evidence eight years after his conviction did not transgress any principle of fundamental fairness.”

    • Case Brief: 1993
    • Petitioner: Leonel Torres Herrera
    • Respondent: James A. Collins, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 506 US 390 (1993)
    Argued: Oct 7, 1992
    Decided: Jan 25, 1993