How does incarceration when innocent impact habeas corpus petitions? Find out here.
The United States Supreme Court has recognized that incarcerating an individual for a crime he or she did not commit violates the Due Process Clause. Also, it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This happens when a “truly persuasive” showing of actual innocence happens. See Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993). In addition the validity of a Herrera claim got recognized in Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995), where the Supreme Court held that a freestanding claim of actual innocence is cognizable if the federal habeas court is convinced that new facts unquestionably establish innocence. 513 U.S. at 317.
Herrera and Schlup
Although both Herrera and Schlup involved the defendants facing the death penalty, the majority opinion in Herrera recognized that where a fundamental error results in an erroneous finding of guilt, “it would be rather strange jurisprudence…which [holds] that under our Constitution [a defendant] could not be executed, but that he could spend the rest of his life in prison.” Herrera, 506 U.S. at 405. Justice Blackmum, joined by extending the principle of due process to include claims of actual innocence is also consistent with the Supreme Court’s prior interpretation of the Due Process Clause.
“[T]he full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution. This `liberty’ is not a series of isolated points…It is a rational continuum which broadly speaking, includes freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints…'” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 848 (1992) (quoting Poe v. Ulman, 367 U.S. 497, 543 (1961)(Harlan, J., dissenting from dismissal on jurisdictional grounds)). So clearly, the conviction and imprisonment of an innocent person is the ultimate manifestation of “arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints.”
“‘In appropriate cases,’ the principles of comity and finality that inform the concepts of cause and prejudice `must yield to the imperative of correcting a fundamentally unjust incarceration.'” Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 320 (1995)(quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 495 (1986), quoting Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 135 (1982)).
Justices Stevens and Souter, also recognized in their dissenting opinion that it may violate the Eighth Amendment to imprison someone who is actually innocent. See Id. at 432 n.2. A priori, if the conviction of an innocent person is unconstitutional for purposes of execution, it must also be unconstitutional for purposes of imprisonment.
The Supreme Court has considered various standards of proof to sustain a claim of actual innocence, but has not adopted a particular one.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has also recognized that incarcerating an individual for an offense he or she did not commit violates due process of law. See Jackson v. Commissioner, 227 Conn. 124, 132 n.7 (1993); Lozada v. Warden, 223 Conn. 834, 840 (1992); Bunkley v. Commissioner, 222 Conn. 444, 460-61 (1992).
That recognition was further reflected in Summerville v. Warden, 229 Conn. 397, 422 (1994), when the Court held that “a substantial claim of actual innocence is cognizable by way of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, even in the absence of proof by the petitioner of an antecedent constitutional violation that affected the result of his criminal trial.” The Court observed that it would offend due process to ignore actual innocence claims in the name of upholding judgments or honoring the principle of finality. Id.
Standard of Proof
Unlike the United States Supreme Court, the Connecticut Supreme Court has determined the standard of proof necessary to sustain a claim of actual innocence. Drawing from Herrera and In re Clark, 5 Cal. 4th 750, although dicta contained in the plurality opinion in Herrera enunciated several standards of proof, it is clear that the burden is a high one. Also, Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion indicated that a “truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence made after trial could render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional…” 506 U.S. at 417.
In addition, Justice O’Connor’s concurring opinion (joined by Justice Kennedy) and Justice Blackmum’s concurring opinion (joined by Justices Stevens and Souter) found that a “truly persuasive showing of `actual innocence'” would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional. Id., at 430. Justice White, also concurring, concluded that relief should be granted in cases where “no rational trier of fact could [find] proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id., at 429; also see Miller v. Commissioner, 242 Conn. at 745 (discussing the various standards of proof articulated in Herrera).
In Schlup, the Court posited a standard where the facts “unquestionably establish” innocence. 513 U.S. at 317. 766, 855 P.2d 729, 21 Cal. Rptr.2d 509 (1993), the Supreme Court in Miller v. Commissioner, supra, concluded that a petitioner advancing a freestanding claim of actual innocence “must establish by clear and convincing evidence that, taking into account all the evidence – both the evidence adduced at the original criminal trial and the evidence adduced at the habeas corpus trial – he is actually innocent of the crime of which he stands convicted…[and], that, after considering all of that evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom…, no reasonable fact finder would find the petitioner guilty of the crime.” 242 Conn. at 747; see Id. at 791-92, 794, 799-800; see also Clarke v. Commissioner, 249 Conn. 350, 355 (1999).
Accordingly, due process continues to protect the innocent and wrongly convicted.