The first petition for writ of certiorari based on Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S.Ct. 1473 (2010), has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Emmanuel Morris v. Commonwealth of Virginia, No. 11—- (U.S. 2011). The petitioner, Emmanuel Morris, asks the Supreme Court to determine whether Padilla applies retroactively and whether Virginia may impose strict time and custody requirements on post-conviction relief such that individuals like Morris can find no state law mechanism through to raise Padilla claims.
The Court has not yet considered whether it will agree to hear this case, but, as with all cases, the chances are slim given that the Court grants approximately one percent of the petitions it receives.
No matter what the Court decides to do with Morris, the petition raises important issues that have already been percolating through state and federal courts and will continue to do so. As the petition explains, there is an ever-growing split in federal and state courts about whether Padilla applies retroactively. The petition’s count is already outdated because courts continue to decide this issue on what seems to be a weekly basis.
The petition also highlights the importance of state post-conviction procedures to potential Padilla claimants. Given that most criminal prosecutions occur in state courts, the procedural remedies and limitations available in these proceedings can make all the difference to someone allegedly denied the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Morris’ case is an example of someone whose strong claim of having been denied effective assistance of counsel ran up against state limitations on post-conviction relief.
Despite having his 1997 petit larceny conviction vacated by a Virginia lower court, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that decision on the grounds that Morris did not meet the necessary requirements under state law. The Virginia Supreme Court held that the state’s writ of coram vobis is available only to correct errors of fact and ineffective assistance of counsel does not constitute an error of fact.
Morris argues that the state supreme court’s decision leaves him without a procedural mechanism through which to raise his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In particular, he argues that he could not have met the custody requirement of the state’s habeas corpus law because he finished serving his year-long sentence long before Padilla was issued (in 1998, a full twelve years before Padilla) and for the same reason could not have met the habeas corpus two-year statute of limitations. Twenty-six states, the petition explains, have a custody requirement.
We’ll see what the Supreme Court decides to do with this petition.