10 January 2013

SCOTUS in Plain English: Ryan v. Gonzales and Tibbals v. Carter

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe Supreme Court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case at SCOTUblog below. For similar posts, click here.

Ryan v. Gonzales
Tibbals v. Carter

(note: these cases had very similar facts, so the legal issues were decided in one opinion)

Gonzales and Carter were death row inmates in Arizona and Ohio, respectively. Both sought habeus corpus proceedings--essentially, they were challenging the lawfulness of their imprisonment (note: habeus proceedings are very common among prison inmates--thousands are filed every year). Lawyers for both sought to suspend the proceedings (a delay in the courts is called a "stay") because they claimed their clients were mentally incompetent to assist the lawyers in their defense. The respective courts agreed to the stay (again, a common tactic; anything to delay an execution). The Supreme Court decided that a prisoner has no statutory right to suspend his federal habeas proceedings when he is found incompetent. The practical impact of this decision is that attorneys for death row inmates have lost one of their procedural methods for delaying executions.
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