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United States Supreme Court

DELO v. BLAIR(1993)

No. A-69

Argued: Decided: July 21, 1993


Applying the prevailing legal standard, it is "particularly egregious" to enter a stay on second or subsequent habeas petitions unless "there are substantial grounds upon which relief might be granted." Herrera v. Collins, ___ U.S. ___ (1993) (internal quotations omitted) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring, joined by KENNEDY, J.). No substantial grounds were presented in the present case. The District Court stated that the "facts in Herrera mirror those in the present case." Blair v. Delo, No. 93-0674-CV-5 (W.D.Mo. July 19, 1993). This assessment was not even questioned by the Court of Appeals, and is obviously correct. There is therefore no conceivable need for the Court of Appeals to engage in "more detailed study" over the next five weeks to resolve this claim. See Blair v. Delo, No. 93-2824 (CA8 July 20, 1993).

It is an abuse of discretion for a federal court to interfere with the orderly process of a state's criminal JUSTICE system in a case raising claims that are for all relevant purposes indistinguishable from those we recently rejected in Herrera. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' stay must be vacated.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE STEVENS joins, dissenting.

The Court errs twice in granting the State's application to vacate the Court of Appeals' stay of execution. First, it errs by affording insufficient deference to the Court of Appeals' decision. Second, it errs by letting stand the District Court's decision, which was itself erroneous.


The standard under which we consider motions to vacate stays of execution is deferential, and properly so. Only when the lower courts have clearly abused their discretion in granting a stay should we take the extraordinary step of overturning such a decision.

Dugger v. Johnson, 485 U.S. 945, 947 (1988) (O'CONNOR, J., joined by REHNQUIST, C.J., dissenting). Accord, Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 896 (1983); Wainwright v. Spenkelink, 442 U.S. 901, 905 (1979) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting). In this case, the Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay of execution to allow it time properly to consider Blair's appeal. In my view, its decision to do so does not constitute an abuse of discretion.

The State likens this case to Delo v. Stokes, 495 U.S. 320 (1990), in which this Court vacated a stay of execution because the prisoner's habeas petition "clearly constitute[d] an abuse of the writ." Id. at 321. Although the habeas petition currently before the Court of Appeals is Blair's third, the abuse of the writ doctrine cannot serve as the basis for vacating this stay. Blair's principal contention in his federal habeas petition is that he is actually innocent, and this Court has recognized an exception to the abuse of the writ doctrine where a habeas petitioner can show that he probably is innocent. See McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. ___ (1991).


The Court's second error is that it lets stand the District Court's decision denying Blair's claim without an evidentiary hearing. In Herrera v. Collins, ___ U.S. ___ (1993), this Court assumed

that in a capital case a truly persuasive demonstration of "actual innocence" made after trial would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional, and warrant federal habeas relief if there were no state avenue open to process such a claim.

Id. at at ___. The Court provided little guidance about what sort of showing would be "truly persuasive." Yet despite the uncertain contours of this constitutional right, federal courts have an obligation to treat actual-innocence claims just as they would any other constitutional claim brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254. The rules governing federal habeas, not addressed by the Herrera majority, provide that

[a] district court may summarily dismiss a habeas petition only if "it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief." 28 U.S.C. 2254 Rule 4.

___ U.S. ___ (dissenting opinion).

If . . . the petition raises factual questions and the State has failed to provide a full and fair hearing, the district court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Id. at ___ (emphasis added), citing Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 313 (1963).

In this case, Blair has submitted seven affidavits tending to show that he is innocent of the crime for which he has been sentenced to death. The State does not dispute that no state court remains open to hear Blair's claim. Because Blair's affidavits raise factual questions that cannot be dismissed summarily, the District Court erred in denying petitioner's claim without an evidentiary hearing.

JUSTICE SOUTER would deny the application to vacate the stay.

DeBOER v. DeBOER, ___ U.S. ___ (1993) DeBOER v. DeBOER ON APPLICATION FOR STAY Nos. A-64, A-65 Decided July 26, 1993

JUSTICE STEVENS, Circuit Justice.

Applicants in case number A5 are residents of Washtenaw County, Michigan. On July 2, 1993, the Michigan Supreme Court entered an order requiring them to comply with custody orders that had previously been entered by the Michigan Court of Appeals and by the Iowa State Courts which had directed them to deliver a child to its natural parents in Iowa, 442 Mich. 648, 502 N.W.2d 649. They have filed an application with me in my capacity as Circuit Justice for the Sixth Circuit for a stay of enforcement of that order. Applicant in Case No. A44 is the child represented by her "next friend," who seeks the same relief. Because I am convinced that there is neither a reasonable probability that the Court will grant certiorari nor a fair prospect that, if it did so, it would conclude that the decision below is erroneous, I have decided to deny the applications.

Respondents are the natural parents of Jessica Clausen, who was born in Iowa on February 8, 1991. When the child was 17 days old, applicants filed a petition for adoption in the Iowa courts. In the ensuing proceedings, the Iowa courts determined that the parental rights of the child's biological father had not been terminated in accordance with Iowa law, and that therefore applicants were not entitled to adopt the child. For reasons that have been stated at length in opinions of the Iowa Supreme Court, the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the Michigan Supreme Court, those determinations control the ultimate outcome of this proceeding. Applicants' claim that Jessica's best interests will be served by allowing them to retain custody of her rests, in part, on the relationship that they have been able to develop with the child after it became clear that they were not entitled to adopt her. Neither Iowa law, Michigan law, nor federal law authorizes unrelated persons to retain custody of a child whose natural parents have not been found to be unfit simply because they may be better able to provide for her future and her education. As the Iowa Supreme Court stated: "[C]ourts are not free to take children from parents simply by deciding another home appears more advantageous." In re B.G.C., 496 N.W.2d 239, 241 (1992) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

My examination of the opinions in the case persuade me that there is no valid federal objection to the conduct or the outcome of the proceedings in the Iowa courts. Indeed, although applicants applied to JUSTICE BLACKMUN in his capacity as Justice for the Eighth Circuit for a stay of enforcement of the judgment entered by the Iowa Supreme Court on September 23, 1992, they did not seek review of that judgment after he had denied the stay application. Rather than comply with the Iowa judgment, applicants sought a modification of that judgment in the Michigan courts. In my opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court correctly concluded that the Michigan courts are obligated to give effect to the Iowa proceedings. The carefully crafted opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court contains a comprehensive and thoughtful explanation of the governing rules of law. Accordingly, the stay applications will be denied.

It so ordered.

[ DELO v. BLAIR, ___ U.S. ___ (1993) , 1]  

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