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Walker v. Martin, USSC No. 09-996, cert granted 6/21/10

Issue: Whether, in federal habeas corpus proceedings, a state law under which a prisoner may be barred from collaterally attacking his conviction when the prisoner “substantially delayed” filing his habeas petition is “inadequate” to support a procedural bar because (1) the federal court believes that the rule is vague and (2) the state failed to prove that its courts “consistently” exercised their discretion when applying the rule in other cases.

Docket: 09-996

(Links, issue-statements, courtesy SCOTUSblog.)

In order to be enforceable on 2254 habeas review, a state court rule of default must be “clearly established.” California’s rule was that substantial delay in filing a postconviction attack operates to default the claim; and the state court held that Martin had defaulted his claim under that rule. But on 2254 review, the 9th held that this substantial delay “standard has yet to be firmly defined and that the state has not met its burden of proof of showing that the standard is consistently applied.” Therefore, the default ruling wasn’t enforceable. Kent Scheidegger, representing amicus on the side of the government, gives his take on the potential significance of the case here. Too early to say, of course, whether the ruling will impact more than California’s apparently unique substantial delay standard.

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