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Articles by Dale Chappell

The Death of the Savings Clause

by Dale Chappell

As most federal prisoners know, the so-called “Savings Clause” under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) is now dead in the wake of the ultra-conservative Supreme Court’s questionable decision in Jones v. Hendrix, 143 S. Ct. 1857 (2023). If you’re not aware, Hendrix ended the use of the Savings Clause, ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: Understanding Second or Successive Petitions for State Prisoners

by Dale Chappell

In the name of finality, federal courts are reluctant to undo criminal judgments of the state courts—especially repeated attempts by petitioners to do so under federal habeas corpus. When the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) came along in 1996, codifying longstanding rules prohibiting multiple attempts ...

Fourth Circuit Reinstates Relief From Death Penalty, Citing State’s Forfeiture of Argument Against Relief

by Dale Chappell

Refusing to uphold an unconstitutional death sentence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held on March 22, 2023, that the State’s forfeiture of a procedural defense in a habeas corpus appeal could not be revived after a remand from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Over 20 years ago, Sammie Stokes was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a South Carolina state court. When all his appeals and state postconviction challenges were denied, Stokes filed for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in federal court. He raised, among other claims, that his trial lawyers were constitutionally ineffective for not presenting mitigating evidence of his strained upbringing at sentencing. However, this claim was not exhausted in state court, as required by federal habeas law, so the magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Stokes’ postconviction review (“PCR”) counsel had failed to raise this claim.

The State objected to the federal court holding an evidentiary hearing, arguing that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) bars the court from considering any evidence that was not part of the existing state-court record at the time of the federal habeas filing. This provision, ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: The Evidentiary Hearing for Federal Prisoners

by Dale Chappell

If you’re filing for post-convictionrelief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, getting the court to grant an evidentiary hearing is a big step toward getting that relief. Successful § 2255 motions are often based on claims asserting facts that are not in the record. Indeed, the primary purpose ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: How to Raise a Fourth Amendment Claim

by Dale Chappell

The slam dunk for federal habeas claims, if such a thing exists, would be a claim that successfully challenges the evidence in a criminal case. By tossing the unlawfully-obtained evidence, not only would the conviction be overturned, but the prosecution wouldn’t have a case for a new ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: How to Raise an Actual Innocence Claim

by Dale Chappell

Believe it or not, someone proving they’re “actually innocent” of their criminal offense is not enough to win federal habeas corpus relief. That’s because actual innocence, by itself, is not a constitutional violation to allow for federal habeas relief. Instead, it’s only the first step toward relief, ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: Role of the Magistrate Judge

by Dale Chappell

District court judges in the federal courts have always had judicial assistants, in addition to law clerks, helping with their caseloads. Long before magistrate judges became what they are today, they were called “commissioners,” who were basically lawyers hired on an as-needed basis.

But in 1958, Congress ...

Federal Habeas Corpus: Obtaining Habeas Relief After a Guilty Plea

by Dale Chappell

It’s long been said that a valid guilty plea goes a long way in barring post-conviction relief in the courts. While that can be true for challenges to the guilty plea itself, it’s often not true for challenges to a sentence resulting from that guilty plea. After ...

Government Snitches Rake in Millions as Their Testimony Is the Leading Cause of Wrongful Convictions

by Jacob Barrett and Dale Chappell

The general public’s familiarity with the government’s use of informants in criminal proceedings is largely confined to movies and TV documentaries. Yet, every year, the government negotiates tens of thousands of deals “off the record,” which are subject to few restrictions and have little ...

Fifth Circuit: New, Retroactive Supreme Court Decision Allowing SOS Habeas Petition Not New Enough to Avoid Procedural-Default Bar

by Dale Chappell

In a decision that further narrows the federal habeas corpus remedy, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a claim under a new, retroactive U.S. Supreme Court ruling to allow a second or successive (“SOS”) habeas petition was not ...



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