U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Death Row Inmate Can't Get Successive Habeas Petition

A Texas death row inmate won't be able to file a successive habeas petition, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. Clinton Lee Young, who was convicted of killing two men for their cars in 2001, had sought authorization to submit a second federal habeas petition based on new claims of prosecutorial misconduct and recently discovered evidence.

The Fifth Circuit refused his request, however, finding that Young's new allegations had largely already been litigated and that, further, any new evidence advanced was not convincing enough to require another habeas hearing.

Claims of New Evidence

In 2001, an 18-year-old Young and David Page, along with other friends, took a ride with Doyle Douglas to buy marijuana in a nearby town. Young then shot Douglas in the head, for unstated reasons. Young and Page later abducted another man, Samuel Petrey, for his car and killed him. Young was convicted for both murders and sentenced to death. After unsuccessful state and federal habeas petitions, Young moved to submit a successive habeas petition based on new developments.

According to Young, several witnesses who testified against him had recently indicated that they were given favorable plea deals or pressured into testifying. Young was never informed of this before trial. If that was so, that would be a violation of the prosecution's requirements under Brady. Young also claimed that new evidence that Page committed the shootings, not Young, had emerged.

Standard for Successive Habeas Petiton

To obtain permission for a successive habeas petition, Young would have to make a prima facie showing that his application warrants a fuller exploration by the court. To do so, his claims must not have been previously presented and new evidence must not have been discoverable through due diligence earlier on. Young could not meet this burden, the Fifth ruled.

As the Fifth Circuit noted, Young had already raised claims of prosecutorial misconduct in his previous habeas petition. Though Young claimed his new Brady evidence "fundamentally altered" his earlier claims because it shows the terms of the deals were different and more favorable than previously thought, they were in fact not very different from the claims already advanced. Indeed, very little was different in Young's claims, which the court had already examined and rejected.

New Evidence is Unconvincing

Further, what new evidence Young asserted was not convincing enough to allow for a second habeas petition, the court found. That evidence would have to show that no reasonable fact finder could have found Young guilty. Some of his evidence of inducement occurred during sentencing, for example, while the rest, had it been introduced, could have been rationally discounted by a jury.

A Silver Lining in AEDPA Statute of Limitations Ruling?

If there's any good news from the case, it's for defense attorneys generally, not Young. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, convicts have only one year to assert claims based on newly discovered evidence. That year runs from the time when "the factual predicate of the claim" could have been discovered through due diligence. Prosecutors had argued that cross examining witnesses who later recant triggers the running of the statute of limitations. The Eleventh, however, found that it did not, keeping them in line with only two other courts who have addressed the question. Young's claims were not time barred, they were just unconvincing.

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