Friday, August 8, 2003
Supreme Court Limits Pro Per Habeas Filings by Represented Prisoners
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Prison inmates represented by habeas corpus counsel will no longer be allowed to file their own petitions with the California Supreme Court regarding matters within the scope of habeas counsel’s duties, the high court ruled yesterday.
Saying it had been inconsistent in its treatment of such petitions in the past, the court unanimously set down a bright line rule.
“Consistent with the general rule that represented parties have no right to present their cases personally alongside counsel-a principle we have recognized in the context of both capital trials and appeals, and noncapital habeas corpus proceedings as well-this court will not file or consider a represented capital inmate’s pro se submissions that challenge the legality of the inmate’s death judgment or otherwise fall within the scope of counsel’s representation,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the court.
The court will consider pro per petitions by represented inmates, Baxter said, if they deal with issues outside the scope of that representation, such as prison conditions, or if they question the representation itself. All other pro se petitions by represented inmates will be returned unfiled, the justice said.
The ruling came in the case of Lee Max Barnett, sentenced to death in Butte Superior Court in 1988. Jurors found Barnett guilty of the murder of a man whom he had accused of stealing from him when they were jointly involved in a gold dredging operation a year earlier.
Jurors found, by way of special circumstances, that the victim had been murdered in the commission of robbery and kidnapping, and that he had been tortured. Barnett was also convicted of assaulting, robbing, and kidnapping the man’s companions.
The crimes occurred after what was described as a chance encounter at a remote campsite in a mining area.
The conviction and death sentence were affirmed in 1998, but a court-appointed attorney, Robert D. Bacon of Oakland, filed a 560-page habeas corpus petition—which is still pending—with 20 volumes of appendices attached, in April 2001.
Baxter noted that Barnett has, since November 2001, been filing various documents with the court, including what purport to be motions to supplement the petition filed by Bacon, along with a letter claiming that his counsel on direct appeal and the court, in its opinion, made misleading statements of fact.
Barnett also filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in which he complained of “prison conditions impeding & obstructing habeas” and of denial of the right to a speedy trial and speedy appeal, and another habeas petition charging that a habeas petition filed in Marin Superior Court was wrongfully denied.
After briefing by the attorney general, Barnett, and Bacon, the high court concluded that the last two petitions were properly filed and are entitled to consideration to the extent they address prison conditions and not the merits of the underlying trial and appellate proceedings. None of the other documents filed by Barnett on his own behalf can be considered because they address matters as to which he is represented by Bacon, the court declared.
Baxter noted that there is no right to self-representation on appeal in criminal proceedings under the California Constitution or the U.S. Constitution. And since habeas corpus proceedings are civil in nature, a rule that prohibits represented inmates from also filing their own papers “is consistent with the established rule in California that represented parties in civil matters must act through their counsel.”
The case is In re Barnett, 03 S.O.S. 4245.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company