Eleventh Cir. Panel Criticizes Own Outlier Habeas Procedures

Three Eleventh Circuit judges expressed dismay that the court has recently begun making precedent in the absence of the normal procedures followed by other courts.

In an unsigned Aug. 1 opinion, the panel rejected Octavious Williams’s application to file a second petition for habeas corpus relief.

Then the panel took the opportunity to address a recent decision—made by another panel—holding that the court’s dispositions of such applications, often made without the benefit of counsel, are precedential.

That decision means “we have the worst of three worlds in this Circuit,” the court said here in a concurring opinion by Judge Charles Reginald Wilson.

The Eleventh Circuit publishes more dispositions of these applications than any other circuit, but unlike other circuits it adheres to a strict 30-day time limit for making the decision. In non-capital cases it makes the decision without any input from the government, Wilson said.

“We should not elevate these hurriedly-written and uncontested orders in this manner,” he said.

The court also pointed to its unique application form, which leaves very little physical space for prisoners to write or type.

Judges Beverly B. Martin and Jill A. Pryor joined the opinion.

In a second concurrence written by Martin and joined by the other two, the court said that the court has “turned a mere screening duty” into “a rich source of precedent-producing opinions that is depriving inmates of a process that could reveal them to be wrongfully incarcerated.”

This abbreviated process has recently established that particular crimes constitute “crimes of violence” or “violent felonies” for sentencing purposes. These decisions will affect “scores of people serving long sentences in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia,” Martin noted.

The case is In re Williams, 2018 BL 273345, 11th Cir., 18-12538, 8/1/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at ajohnson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com