St. Mary's Law Journal


This Article’s purpose is to portray recent changes in the United States Supreme Court’s habeas corpus jurisprudence—limiting the scope of the federal writ while reducing the federal judiciary’s role overseeing the criminal justice systems. Seemingly, the Court gave little thought to whether this reduction in federal oversight should be accompanied by a greater measure of review on the part of state courts. The writ of habeas corpus, often referred to as the Great Writ, is the primary means of enforcing rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution and federal courts are the principal guardians of these rights. While commitment to this principle remains constant, application of the remedy of federal habeas corpus to state convictions is inconsistent. Case law points to the Court’s rejection of the argument that limiting federal habeas review will cause state judges to enforce federal constitutional rights less vigorously. State-court decisions may ultimately provide empirical data that will prove or disprove this hypothesis. Because recent restrictions on availability of the writ are due to judicial discretion rather than an absence of judicial authority, the Supreme Court remains free to remedy any perceived abuses or inequities in the current habeas regime. Congress, too, certainly could amend the habeas statutes to broaden the scope of federal review. Thus, the present era of limited federal oversight of state criminal processes may not endure. For now, it is important for states to seize their new responsibilities; they should abandon the old working hypothesis which generally denied state relief because multiple opportunities for federal relief lay ahead. An ideal criminal justice system should detect and correct serious errors early in the process, thus saving both the defendant and society the burden of repetitious litigation.


St. Mary's University School of Law