Clinic To Argue Habeas Case at Supreme Court on Tuesday
The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law will return to the court on Tuesday to determine whether certain federal inmates have recourse to challenge their convictions.
Marcus DeAngelo Jones, who was convicted in 2000 for being a felon in possession of a firearm, filed a habeas corpus petition citing the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling in Rehaif v. U.S. The court held in Rehaif that in felon-in-possession cases, the prosecution must prove both that the accused knew they possessed a gun and they knew they were a felon. In denying Jones’ habeas petition, the District Court and the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Jones had had the opportunity to make his own Rehaif-type argument to challenge the legality of his detention.
The question before the justices is whether habeas relief is available to federal inmates who could not otherwise file challenges to their convictions when judicial decisions decriminalized the activities at issue after they were convicted.
Ortiz said a win for Jones would mean “people who are convicted and imprisoned for things later determined in other cases not to be crimes can use common law habeas to challenge their continued detention and hopefully be freed.”
A new brief co-authored by Ortiz argued that the appellate ruling runs afoul of a host of constitutional protections, and “In order to arrive at its holding, the Eighth Circuit had to misinterpret all three of §2255(e)’s central terms,” referring to a provision in federal law regarding habeas applications.
Eight circuits have supported habeas relief when a change in statutory law is retroactively applicable, and three have opposed it.
“They haven’t generally been defendant-friendly,” Ortiz said of the Roberts court, “but here they themselves held just three years ago that the activity our client was convicted of wasn’t a crime unless the government charged and proved that he knew he was a felon at the time, which he claims he did not.”
The yearlong clinic introduces third-year students to all aspects of current U.S. Supreme Court practice through live cases. Jones is the clinic’s 18th case before the court since the course’s inception in 2006.
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