December 08, 2009

Supreme Court Decides Beard v. Kindler

On December 8, 2009, the Supreme Court decided Beard v. Kindler, No. 08-992.

In 1982, Joseph Kindler burglarized a music store in Pennsylvania. He was arrested and released on bail. While released, he brutally murdered an accomplice who had agreed to testify against him at trial. Kindler was arrested again and convicted of capital murder. While his postverdict motions were pending, he escaped to Canada. After a time, he was arrested there, but he escaped again. Years later he was recaptured and extradited to the United States, where he moved to reinstate his postverdict motions. The Pennsylvania courts applied their discretionary authority to dismiss all of his motions because of his fugitive status. Kinder then sought federal habeas relief.

The question presented to the Supreme Court is whether a discretionary state procedural rule can serve as an adequate state ground for decision that bars federal habeas review. The Court held that it can. A discretionary rule can be both "firmly established"and "regularly followed," as required of an adequate state ground—even if the appropriate exercise of discretion may permit consideration of a federal claim in some cases but not others. Moreover, a contrary holding would pose an unnecessary dilemma for the States, making them choose between flexibility and finality. The Court found no reason to put them to that choice.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Justices joined except Justice Alito, who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Justice Kennedy filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined.

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