Redefining the Relationship Between Stone and AEDPA

Note — Volume 106, Issue 2

106 Va. L. Rev. 523
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*J.D., University of Virginia School of Law, 2019. I would like to extend a special thanks to Professor Peter W. Low for supervising my research, for without his help, this would not be possible. Thanks are also owed to Olivia Vaden, Zachary Ingber, Spencer Ryan, and Jessie Michelin for their helpful feedback and unwavering support throughout this process.Show More

This Note challenges the current conception of the availability of federal habeas corpus relief for state prisoners claiming a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Stone v. Powell, federal courts have analyzed Fourth Amendment violations under a different legal regime than that used for other constitutional violations challenged on habeas corpus. This has persisted despite passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which amended the federal habeas corpus statute for state prisoners, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Federal courts have largely held that AEDPA has not changed the relationship between Stone’s holding and Section 2254. This Note argues that the current conception of federal habeas corpus review of Fourth Amendment claims is fundamentally inconsistent and asserts that the AEDPA standard should be applied to Fourth Amendment claims brought by state prisoners.

Introduction

On June 17, 2013, the Baton Rouge Police Department received an unconfirmed anonymous tip that Cedric Spears was trafficking cocaine and in possession of a firearm in his home.1.Spears v. Vannoy(Spears I), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2423017, *1 (M.D. La. Apr. 30, 2018).Show More Two police officers obtained Spears’s criminal history, confirmed only that he was a convicted felon, and, without a warrant, proceeded to his apartment complex.2.Id.Show More The officers waited in the parking lot until just before midnight to approach the apartment, when, coincidentally, Spears opened the door.3.Id.Show More The officers spotted a gun in his apartment.4.Id.Show More After officers gathered Spears and the apartment’s other occupants into a central location and patted them down, Spears was handcuffed and read his rights.5.Id.Show More

Spears admitted to owning the gun.6.Id.Show More On November 4, 2013, he was convicted on one count of felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to eighteen years of hard labor without benefit or probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.7.Id.Show More Spears filed a pro se appeal to the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit, arguing that the trial court wrongly denied his motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the illegal warrantless search.8.Id.Show More His appeal was denied.9.Id.Show More He then petitioned for supervisory review in the Louisiana Supreme Court.10 10.Id.Show More His petition was denied.11 11.Id.Show More Spears then filed a pro se petition for federal habeas corpus relief in the Middle District of Louisiana.12 12.Id.Show More This petition was denied, as well.13 13.Spears v. Vannoy(Spears II), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2422749, *1 (M.D. La. May 29, 2018) (adopting the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation).Show More

In denying Spears’s habeas petition, the federal court simply stated that Fourth Amendment violations are “generally not cognizable on federal habeas review.”14 14.Spears I,2018 WL 2423017, at *2.Show More This categorical denial is based on the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Stone v. Powell,15 15.428 U.S. 465 (1976).Show More which held that a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief based on a Fourth Amendment violation “where the State has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of [that] Fourth Amendment claim.”16 16.Id. at 482, 494.Show More Despite Spears’s claim of a “defective warrant”—or lack of a warrant—the court held that the Fifth Circuit only requires the trial court to provide “an opportunity” to litigate one’s claim, nothing further.17 17.Spears I, 2018 WL 2423017, at *2–3.Show More A mere opportunity to litigate a Fourth Amendment claim in state court is all that is required for a federal court to refuse to even consider a state prisoner’s habeas petition.18 18.Id.at *2 (citing Carver v. Alabama, 577 F.2d 1188, 1192 (5th Cir. 1978)).Show More In Spears’s case, the federal district court went on to deny him a certificate of appealability, terminating his one remaining option.19 19.Spears v. Vannoy(Spears II), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2422749, *1 (M.D. La. May 29, 2018).Show More Despite no search warrant and arguably no probable cause to approach the house, Cedric Spears was searched, tried, convicted, and sentenced to eighteen years in prison.20 20.Spears I,2018 WL 2423017, at *1, *3–4.Show More And the federal court would not even entertain his petition for habeas corpus.

As displayed in Spears’s case, federal courts currently hold Stone v. Powell to be controlling when state prisoners allege a Fourth Amendment violation on habeas. All other constitutional violations, on the other hand, are adjudicated under a different standard provided by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).21 21.Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1218. AEDPA amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the sole statute governing habeas corpus review for state prisoners; thus, “the AEDPA standard” refers to the standard of review enacted as a result of the passage of AEDPA and is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).Show More The two regimes have at least one primary difference. While Stone restricts the cognizance of such habeas petitions, AEDPA at least allows federal courts to review the petitioner’s claim. Fourth Amendment violations are the only constitutional violations not litigated under the AEDPA standard. Therefore, if Spears was alleging a due process violation or bringing a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, his case would at least have been heard by a federal court rather than dismissed as not cognizable.

This Note argues that the current approach adopted by the federal courts is incorrect in light of AEDPA. Instead of looking to Stone for guidance, federal courts should adopt the AEDPA standard for habeas review in the context of alleged Fourth Amendment violations. This presents a rare opportunity to right the current course of the federal courts. With this approach, federal courts would treat Fourth Amendment violations the same as every other constitutional violation with respect to federal habeas petitions, instead of relegating Fourth Amendment claims to a lower tier.

Adopting the AEDPA standard will provide four primary benefits. First, this change will simplify the process for state prisoners. This is especially important for those representing themselves pro se, like Cedric Spears. Holding alleged Fourth Amendment violations to a different standard than all other constitutional harms only further complicates an already complex area of law that affects many criminal defendants.22 22.According to a study funded by the United States Department of Justice, state prisoners file about 16,000 to 18,000 habeas petitions every year. Unfortunately, a breakdown by constitutional violation is not available. See Nancy J. King et al., Habeas Corpus Litigation in United States District Courts: An Empirical Study, 20002006, at ii, iv (2013), https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR21200.v1 [https://perma.cc/Z7RS-AECM].Show More Second, it would resolve a split among the federal circuits as to how to interpret the meaning of the Court’s language in Stone, and thereby create a uniform, national standard of review. A uniform, national standard is vitally important because where one’s claim is brought should not determine whether that state prisoner has access to federal habeas review. Third, adopting the AEDPA standard will allow state prisoners to actually have their federal habeas petitions reviewed, rather than denied without consideration, as Spears’s was. As a matter of procedural justice, all habeas petitioners deserve the right to be heard, regardless of the nature of their claim. Litigants, especially pro se litigants, can use this Note as a roadmap to challenge the current legal regime and, hopefully, have their petitions heard by the federal courts.

Finally, adopting this approach will allow any future statutory reform to current habeas corpus law to include claims alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, rather than continue to leave them behind. Fourth Amendment violations are treated differently than all other constitutional violations. While all other constitutional violations are governed by AEDPA, Fourth Amendment violations are treated as outside the statutory scheme. Adopting this approach, however, brings Fourth Amendment violations back into the fold of AEDPA alongside all other constitutional violations. If federal courts continue to treat Fourth Amendment violations as outside of the AEDPA statutory scheme,23 23.See infra Part III.Show More then future habeas reform will not affect habeas petitions alleging Fourth Amendment violations. Thus, if the language of AEDPA is amended, under this proposed approach, the statutory reform would not further widen the gap between how Fourth Amendment claims are treated and how all other constitutional claims are treated.

As explained below, the two regimes—review under AEDPA and review under Stone—currently produce similar outcomes;24 24.See infra Section II.C, Part III.Show More however, future changes to the AEDPA standard could yield different outcomes for Fourth Amendment violations and all other constitutional violations. Adopting the AEDPA standard will have truly tangible benefits to defendants, practitioners, and judges even if it may not have an enormous impact on the number of federal habeas petitions ultimately granted for state prisoners.25 25.See infra Part III.Show More As one commentator has put it, habeas corpus has played an “important role . . . as a postconviction remedy” and has the “unique nature and suitability . . . to bring about transformative change.”26 26.LeRoy Pernell, Racial Justice and Federal Habeas Corpus as Postconviction Relief from State Convictions,69 Mercer L. Rev. 453, 453 (2018).Show More

Surprisingly, despite the significant academic attention dedicated to federal habeas corpus, little attention has been focused on the collateral review of alleged Fourth Amendment violations. Much of the post-AEDPA academic literature identifies and defines the standard set forth in AEDPA,27 27.See e.g.,John H. Blume, AEDPA: The “Hype” and The “Bite,” 91 Cornell L. Rev. 259, 272–73 (2006); Evan Tsen Lee, Section 2254(d) of the Federal Habeas Statute: Is It Beyond Reason?, 56 Hastings L.J. 283, 283 (2004); Adam N. Steinman, Reconceptualizing Federal Habeas Corpus for State Prisoners: How Should AEDPA’s Standard of Review Operate After Williams v. Taylor?, 2001 Wis. L. Rev. 1493, 1495.Show More further defines the standard set forth in Stone independent from AEDPA, 28 28.See e.g.,Justin F. Marceau, Challenging the Habeas Process Rather Than the Result, 69 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 85, 141 (2012); Justin F. Marceau, Don’t Forget Due Process: The Path Not (Yet) Taken in § 2254 Habeas Corpus Adjudications, 62 Hastings L.J. 1, 17, 26–27 (2010).Show More or argues for an overhaul of the current federal habeas system altogether.29 29.See e.g.,Joseph L. Hoffmann & Nancy J. King, Rethinking the Federal Role in State Criminal Justice, 84 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 791, 797 (2009).Show More Some of the nation’s leading federal courts textbooks do not even specifically address this issue.30 30.See, e.g., Brandon L. Garrett & Lee Kovarsky, Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation 14150 (2013) (failing to discuss the issue); Peter W. Low et al., Federal Courts and the Law of Federal-State Relations 966 (9th ed. 2018)(speculating only that AEDPA “may have introduced a subtle but not fundamental change in the meaning of Stone v. Powell”).Show More

Only one scholar has touched on the relationship between Stone and AEDPA. In a 2006 article, Professor Steven Semeraro argued that the historical changes in the treatment of the exclusionary rule, which is the primary vehicle by which courts remedy Fourth Amendment violations, coupled with the changes to habeas practice generally, require that Stone be overruled.31 31.Steven Semeraro, Enforcing Fourth Amendment Rights Through Federal Habeas Corpus, 58 Rutgers L. Rev. 983, 1016–18 (2006). Professor Semeraro also notes that “there has been remarkably little historical analysis directed at the judicial treatment of collateral search-and-seizure claims.” Id. at 984–85.Show More Professor Semeraro’s argument is primarily focused on Stone’s deficiencies in modern litigation and the reasons that decision should be overturned rather than, as this Note argues, the reasons why AEDPA specifically should replace it.32 32.See id. at 986.Show More This Note examines the various possible solutions to reconciling the language of Stone with the text of AEDPA and argues for a clear, simple, statutory text-based rule for the federal courts to follow.

Part II of this Note reviews the legal history of the availability of habeas corpus relief for violations of the Fourth Amendment. It summarizes the evolution of federal habeas corpus law from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Allen,33 33.344 U.S. 443 (1953).Show More to its Fourth Amendment carve out in Stone v. Powell, to the enactment of AEDPA. Part III describes the current approach taken to federal habeas petitions brought by state prisoners alleging a violation of the Fourth Amendment and why there is a need for change. Part IV analyzes two possible solutions to reconciling the standard set forth by AEDPA with the Stone decision. Finally, Part V proposes that federal district courts adopt a third solution and hold that the AEDPA standard replace Stone’s framework with respect to Fourth Amendment claims going forward.

  1. * J.D., University of Virginia School of Law, 2019. I would like to extend a special thanks to Professor Peter W. Low for supervising my research, for without his help, this would not be possible. Thanks are also owed to Olivia Vaden, Zachary Ingber, Spencer Ryan, and Jessie Michelin for their helpful feedback and unwavering support throughout this process.

  2. Spears v. Vannoy (Spears I), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2423017, *1 (M.D. La. Apr. 30, 2018).
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Spears v. Vannoy (Spears II), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2422749, *1 (M.D. La. May 29, 2018) (adopting the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation).
  15. Spears I, 2018 WL 2423017, at *2.
  16. 428 U.S. 465 (1976).
  17. Id. at 482, 494.
  18. Spears I, 2018 WL 2423017, at *2–3.
  19. Id. at *2 (citing Carver v. Alabama, 577 F.2d 1188, 1192 (5th Cir. 1978)).
  20. Spears v. Vannoy (Spears II), Civ. No. 15-495-SDD-RLB, 2018 WL 2422749, *1 (M.D. La. May 29, 2018).
  21. Spears I, 2018 WL 2423017, at *1, *3–4.
  22. Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1218. AEDPA amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the sole statute governing habeas corpus review for state prisoners; thus, “the AEDPA standard” refers to the standard of review enacted as a result of the passage of AEDPA and is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
  23. According to a study funded by the United States Department of Justice, state prisoners file about 16,000 to 18,000 habeas petitions every year. Unfortunately, a breakdown by constitutional violation is not available. See Nancy J. King et al., Habeas Corpus Litigation in United States District Courts: An Empirical Study
    , 2000–2006,

    at ii, iv (2013), https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR21200.v1 [https://perma.cc/Z7RS-AECM].

  24. See infra Part III.
  25. See infra Section II.C, Part III.
  26. See infra Part III.
  27. LeRoy Pernell, Racial Justice and Federal Habeas Corpus as Postconviction Relief from State Convictions
    ,
    69

    Mercer L. Rev.

    453

    , 453 (2018).

  28. See e.g., John H. Blume, AEDPA: The “Hype” and The “Bite,” 91 Cornell L. Rev. 259, 272–73 (2006); Evan Tsen Lee, Section 2254(d) of the Federal Habeas Statute: Is It Beyond Reason?, 56 Hastings L.J. 283, 283 (2004); Adam N. Steinman, Reconceptualizing Federal Habeas Corpus for State Prisoners: How Should AEDPA’s Standard of Review Operate After Williams v. Taylor?, 2001 Wis. L. Rev. 1493, 1495.
  29. See e.g., Justin F. Marceau, Challenging the Habeas Process Rather Than the Result, 69 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 85, 141 (2012); Justin F. Marceau, Don’t Forget Due Process: The Path Not (Yet) Taken in § 2254 Habeas Corpus Adjudications, 62 Hastings L.J. 1, 17, 26–27 (2010).
  30. See e.g., Joseph L. Hoffmann & Nancy J. King, Rethinking the Federal Role in State Criminal Justice, 84 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 791, 797 (2009).
  31. See, e.g., Brandon L. Garrett & Lee Kovarsky, Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation
    141–50

    (2013) (failing to discuss the issue); Peter W. Low et al., Federal Courts and the Law of Federal-State Relations

    966

    (9th ed. 2018) (speculating only that AEDPA “may have introduced a subtle but not fundamental change in the meaning of Stone v. Powell”).

  32. Steven Semeraro, Enforcing Fourth Amendment Rights Through Federal Habeas Corpus,
    58

    Rutgers L. Rev. 983, 1016–18 (2006). Professor Semeraro also notes that “there has been remarkably little historical analysis directed at the judicial treatment of collateral search-and-seizure claims.” Id. at 984–85.

  33. See id. at 986.
  34. 344 U.S. 443 (1953).

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