There has been a debate whether the federal courthouse doors should be reopened to state prisoners, particularly those on death row, so as to ensure that justice is not short-circuited or whether they the federal courthouse doors remain as they are now, with only one federal review.
This question deals with the fate of state prisoners, especially those on death row, at the Federal courthouse. The main purport of this essay therefore is to look at the various principles that make it possible for a state prisoner to make an appeal for quash of his conviction at the Federal courthouse. Also to be discussed is the position to be taken on either the Federal courthouse should be reopened for aggrieved state prisoners or that it should remain as they are now with only one Federal review.
The first concept to be discussed in this regard is the concept of Habeas corpus. This concept of law makes it possible for a prisoner to appeal for his conviction at the lover court. The doctrine enables federal courts to order a state to release or retry prisoners held in violation of the Federal Constitution (Nutting, 2001). A very salient point that must be noted is that Federal habeas review can take place only after a state conviction has become final and all other state post conviction remedies have been exhausted by the prisoner. Thus, Federal habeas claims are often referred to as "collateral" proceedings to distinguish them from direct appeals to the Supreme Court.
After a cursory look at the above doctrine, it is pertinent to note that petitions to the Federal courthouse by state prisoners is justified because of the perceived miscarriage of justice by the state high courts. For example, a defendant in a habeas corpus case, Robert Allen Williams Jr., was convicted of first-degree murder in the April 1985 shooting death of two men in Romulus, Mich. His conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court, which found that police improperly questioned Williams about the murders and that his incriminating statements therefore should not have been used against him (Yackle, 1993). So therefore, sometimes, the state high courts reach final decisions which are contrary to a reasonable sense of natural justice, equity and good conscience.
From the above stated instance, it is seen that if a finality of the state high court is fully allowed, justice would be circuited and the innocent would suffer. Hence the saying that “it is better for a thousand guilty persons to go free, than for one innocent person to be punished”. It must however be noted that before a federal habeas court can entertain any appeal from the state court, certain conditions must be satisfied (Walker, 2006). In the first instance, the federal courthouse must ask whether the state court has reached a decision that "applies a legal rule that contradicts the Supreme Court's prior holdings or reaches a different result from one of the Court’s cases despite confronting indistinguishable facts"(Nutting, 2001).
Furthermore, the federal high court must determine whether the state court “correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case."(Chachere, 2004). If therefore the decision reached by the state court does not contradict federal law and is objectively reasonable in light of that law, the petition of the state prisoner must be denied.
Flowing from the above, a state prisoner convicted of murder at the state courthouse could be denied a review of his conviction at the federal court house simply because his conviction conforms to the relevant laws and that the doctrine of natural justice, equity and good conscience is taken into consideration. In another words, the federal courthouse may deny such an application for review when it is satisfied that a miscarriage of justice did not occur at the state high court (Yackle, 1993). .
In my own view, I think that the finality of judgment at the state high courts would bring about a lot of injustice and the legal principle of fair hearing would have been grossly violated. Especially when it comes to death penalty, a prisoner should be allowed to file an appeal to the federal courthouse. Who knows maybe the decision of the state high court had been wrongly reached. If allowed, the finality of the judgments of state courts would do more harm than good to prisoners on a death row. In respect of this, I am of the support that a state prisoner must be given a last opportunity to appeal to a federal courthouse in order for the latter to have his case reviewed and accordingly adjudicated upon.
Finally, in order to ensure justice and fair hearing in our judicial system, state prisoners should be allowed to have their conviction reviewed by a federal courthouse. This would not only be beneficial to the convicted and condemned state prisoner, it would also make the citizenry to have faith in the judicial system as the last hope of the common man. It is true that justice must be done even if heaven falls, this should not becloud our reasoning to the fact that justice must be carefully and meticulously done without fear or favor. Thus the doctrine of Habeas corpus should me utilized by the Federal courthouse in order to save state prisoners that are on the death row.
1. Nutting, H. A. (n.d.). “The Most Wholesome Law--The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. “. The American Historical Review, Vol. 65(No. 3), 527-543
2. Walker, R. S. (2006). HABEAS CORPUS WRIT OF LIBERTY: English and American Origins and Development. BookSurge/Amazon.
3. Chachere, V. (n.d.). Judge in Schiavo case a Clinton appointee. Associated Press.
4. Yackle, L. W. (1993). Habeas Corpus. (Vol. Constitution 5, no. 1,).