The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, June 12, 2004

Supreme Court's exquisitely Dickensian injustice - where's the liberal backlash?

I can't speak for other systems of law; but the English systems of common law and equity over the centuries developed into what amounted to an immensely complicated parlour-game; in a hideous mirror-image to Occam's Razor, with entia being multiplicata to the nth degree, and each requiring meticulous observance under penalty of having to go back and start all over again.

Cui bono? The lawyers, the rat-finks! Charles Dickens, amongst other literary lampoonists of the vile trade, did his best to impel reform, and some of the more monstrous absurdities were done away with in Victorian times.

Come forward, to May 2004, and cross the ocean to Washington, DC and find a court of which, more even than Dickens' Court of Chancery, one might justly say,
Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!

The US Supreme Court, that is - and the case of Dretke v Haley, in which the opinion of the court was perpetrated by none other than Injustice O'Connor [1].

Michael Haley was convicted under Texas law for theft (of a calculator from Wal-Mart), an offence whose maximum sentence was two years. However, Haley received an enhanced sentence of 16½ years under the Texas habitual offender law. On the facts of Haley's case, the habitual offender law did not apply to him. But his counsel failed to make a submission to that effect at trial.

Haley's claim for habeas corpus relief on the ground of actual innocence was rejected on the ground that other grounds (eg, ineffective assistance of counsel) had not been exhausted in the lower Federal courts.

By chance, by the grace and favour of Texas, Haley was out of jail pending resolution of his challenge to his sentence: this purely casual circumstance apparently weighed with the Supreme Court in pursuing its game of judicial ping-pong. What if, next time, the state authorities decide to keep their man locked up? I somehow doubt whether that would earn him immediate habeas relief from this Court!

So far as I can see, this facially unjust decision has brought almost no reaction from liberal circles, in the blogosphere or out.

  1. The case discussed in an article on the Findlaw site (June 10).

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