A writ of habeas corpus is one method in which an inmate can ask a federal court to review a state court sentence they believe is in violation of the United States Constitution. A recent Fifth Circuit decision (Crawford v. Cain) is going to make it harder for inmates to seek this form of relief. In Cain, circuit court Judge Andrew Oldham wrote the majority opinion which restricts habeas claims to cases of “factual innocence.”
Restricting habeas claims to cases of factual innocence has consequences that could be significant. For example, if a state were to enact a law that violates the United States Constitution (i.e. Jim Crow law or laws against criticizing political officials, as extreme examples) then an inmate would not be able to seek habeas relief if they did in fact violate the unconstitutional law. Historically, habeas has been a check on state laws that violate the Constitution in federal district courts. An inmate still has the ability to appeal their sentence to the US Supreme Court, but due to the extremely limited number of cases the Supreme Court can hear, an overwhelming number of these cases will never be heard.
As of now, this decision will only impact the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. However, it illustrates the desire of some federal courts to limit the scope of habeas relief. With this ruling, other circuits may follow their lead and a challenge to the ruling may eventually make it to the Supreme Court. Until then, habeas relief will be significantly restricted in the fifth circuit states.
If you are looking for help in filing for habeas relief, contact Joe Edwards at (614) 309-0243!
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