US District Judge Lynn Adelman's new article titled "The Great Writ Diminished" aspires to "stimulate a discussion about the current state of habeas corpus. Wonderfully, the article has already started such a discussion in these blog comments, and I want to keep the momentum going in this post.
Specifically, I would like to see a lot more number crunching concerning habeas appeals of state convictions in federal courts. Judge Adelman builds off the ground-breaking 2007 Vanderbilt study which, as discussed here, found that of 2384 non-capital filings examined, petitioners received relief a rate of 1 in every 341 cases filed, whereas of the 267 capital cases examined, about 1 in 8 petitioners received relief. These national numbers may obscure lots of significant state variations and also significant issue-specific variations that could and should tell us a lot more about how the great writ is really working.
Happy to oblige.
In Texas, evaluating (and mostly denying) habeas writs makes up a large amount of the caseload for judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals and their staff. According to the annual activity report for the CCA (pdf, page 2, right column), in fiscal year 2008 Texas high criminal court considered 5,290 individual habeas writs, but granted relief in only 8 of them. That's a rate of about one out of every 661 cases, or about half as often as federal judges evaluated in the Vanderbilt study. (Another 350 were remanded for evidentiary hearings by a trial judge and not finally decided.)