The Narrow Scope of Successive Habeas Writs in the Fourth Circuit – In re John Earl McFadden

jailWhen individuals are convicted of crimes in West Virginia and other states, they are given multiple opportunities to appeal their convictions. Initially, these appeals must take place in state court, where any aspect of the merit of the conviction and sentence can be addressed.  After the defendant has exhausted his or her appeals in state court (i.e., been unsuccessful), the defendant may appeal the merits of the conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court. After that, if still unsuccessful, the defendant may begin the process of applying for a separate type of “appeal,” known as a writ of habeas. Technically, a habeas petition is not an appeal at all, but it is a separate cause of action that focuses on constitutional claims that a defendant may have against unlawful imprisonment. However, many of the issues raised in a habeas petition are similar to those raised on appeal. Generally, defendants get only one opportunity to apply for a habeas writ. Only in rare circumstances will a court grant multiple or successive habeas petitions. This is in part due to restrictions put in place through the passage of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).

In In re McFadden, Mr. McFadden’s petition for a successive habeas writ illustrates the tight restrictions on multiple writs and the very narrow circumstances under which they can be granted.  After filing initial appeals and a first writ of habeas earlier in the legal proceedings, all of which were unsuccessful, Mr. McFadden received new information that led him to file a request for another petition. Specifically, Mr. McFadden claimed that only in 2014 did he finally receive his entire file from his trial and appellate counsel, and only then did he realize that prosecutors had offered him a plea deal of which he now claims his counsel never informed him. Had he been aware of it, he contends, he would have agreed to the deal. Mr. McFadden thus argues that he was prejudiced by the ineffective assistance of his counsel.

The Fourth Circuit reviewed these claims and the petition in light of the requirements for the filing of a successive petition. It held that Mr. McFadden was required to show that either his claim relied on a new, retroactive, previously unavailable rule of constitutional law, or that he had discovered new facts that, if reviewed, would clearly and convincingly exonerate him of his crime. Here, Mr. McFadden acknowledged that there was no new rule of constitutional law, but he argued instead that he had discovered new facts of significance, namely the plea offer.  However, the Fourth Circuit denied his request, noting that whether or not he had been offered a plea deal would have no bearing on whether he was innocent or guilty of the crime for which he was charged.

Since the evidence offered by Mr. McFadden did not fall within either of the acceptable categories for a successive habeas writ, the Fourth Circuit denied his request.

Habeas petitions typically arise only when significant criminal punishment is at stake. Defendants facing a lifetime in jail, or the death penalty, often have both the time and the motivation to proceed through the lengthy habeas process, while those facing lesser sentences may find the effort and hurdles involved to be less appealing. If you are a criminal defendant who was wrongly convicted, but you are having difficulties with the criminal appeals system, or you are facing trial and would like to avoid a wrongful conviction, contact the West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm. We have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Waiver of Appellate Rights in Criminal Proceedings – United States v. McLaughlin

Interpreting the U.S. Criminal Sentencing Guidelines – United States v. Martinovich

Appealing a Criminal Conviction in West Virginia – State v. Imoh