Kane v. Espitia (04-1538) and Eberhart v. United States (04-9949)

November 2, 2005 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court fans!
In our excitement over the new nominee, we neglected to mention that the Court issued two per curiam opinions yesterday (with no recorded dissents).
In Kane v. Espitia (04-1538), the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's grant of federal habeas relief based on the petitioner's allegation that he was denied access to a law library to prepare his pro se defense. In granting relief, the Ninth Circuit had relied on the Court's decision in Farretta v. California, which established the right of a criminal defendant to self-representation. Because the Court found that Farretta did not guarantee any specific right of access to a law library, and lower courts had split on that issue in the wake of Farretta, it concluded that the law in this area was not clearly established. Therefore, the California state court's decision denying the petitioner's claim could not be "contrary to, or involv[e] an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," as required for federal habeas relief.
Turning next to a case near and dear to all the jurisdiction junkies, Eberhart v. United States (04-9949), holds that Fed. Rule Crim. Pro. 33(a), which requires that a motion for a new trial based on anything other than new evidence be brought within seven days, is not jurisdictional, but is instead merely an "inflexible claim-processing rule." Therefore, it is subject to waiver if not raised by the government in a timely fashion. The Court took responsibility for the many lower court decisions that got this wrong, acknowledging that its "repetition of the phrase ‘mandatory and jurisdictional' has understandably led the lower courts to err." The Court was also remarkably candid in its appreciation for the Seventh Circuit's handling of the case; the Seventh Circuit found that it was bound to construe Rule 33 as jurisdictional, but recognized that other Supreme Court decisions raised the possibility that these types of rules were in fact claim-processing rules. "By adhering to its understanding of precedent, yet plainly expressing its doubts, it facilitated our review."
That's all for now. Thanks, as always, for reading!
Kim & Ken
From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana. For more information, contact Kim Rinehart, Ken Heath, Aaron Bayer, or Jeff Babbin at 203-498-4400