ABA Amicus Brief Filed in Prisoner Litigation Case ( Woodford v. Ngo)

In an amicus brief filed on February 2, 2006, the ABA asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to bar federal lawsuits by prisoners on grounds that they have not complied with all procedural requirements for administrative relief crafted by prison officials. The ABA amicus brief in Woodford v. Ngo (No. 05-416) argued that the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act's requirement that prisoners exhaust administrative remedies before bringing federal claims does not justify a “judicially-created procedural default rule.” The brief cited several ABA policies, including the ABA Legal Status of Prisoners Standards’ call for "free and meaningful access to the judicial process" for prisoners.

The Section's application for the amicus brief emanated from Prof. Lynn Branham, a member and former Chair of the Section's Corrections and Sentencing Committee, and was supported by that Committee and the Juvenile Justice Committee. The brief was drafted by Eric Maier of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Click here to access the full opinion.

Evidence of "Actual Innocence" in Death Penalty Cases ( House v. Bell)

On September 22, 2005, the ABA filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in House v. Bell (No. 04-8990). The case involves evidence of “actual innocence” that came to light following petitioner’s conviction and sentence to death. While the Sixth Circuit unanimously agreed that the defendant had presented a “colorable claim” of actual innocence supported by DNA evidence, expert testimony, and evidence of confessions by the actual murderer, it split 8-7 in ruling that his “colorable claim” nevertheless did not meet the applicable standards for recognition of “actual innocence” claims in a federal habeas corpus action. In advising the Court about the Association’s nine “innocence” resolutions, its “biological evidence principles,” and its capital habeas corpus litigation policies, the ABA brief pointed out that these materials support standards for “actual innocence” habeas corpus cases that are sufficiently robust to accommodate the various evidentiary and systemic shortcomings revealed by “actual innocence” cases – systemic shortcomings that were simply not well-appreciated at the time the cases on which the majority relied were decided. Amicus Committee Co-Chair Rory Little, Hastings Law School, drafted the brief with the assistance of Seth Waxman and Sanket Bulsara of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. For a copy of the appendix to the brief, click here.

Appellate Counsel for Indigent Defendants ( Halbert v. Michigan)

On June 23, 2005, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Michigan law that barred state-paid legal assistance for indigent defendants who plead guilty, but then want to appeal. The court held that Antonio Halbert had a right to a lawyer. In 2001 Mr. Halbert pleaded no contest to two child molestation charges and received up to 30 years in prison. He requested a state appointed lawyer to contest the calculation of his sentence but was denied. At the Section's request, the ABA filed an amicus brief in the case. Drafted by Paul Wolfson of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, the brief cited the ABA Standards on Criminal Appeals in arguing that indigent criminal defendants who seek to pursue a first appeal should have appointed counsel. Click below to access the full opinion.
Halbert v. Michigan (No. 03-10198) opinion