No. 01-9094 Abdur'Rahman v. Bell
The last case to be argued this week is a combination death penalty and civil procedure case. The Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He raised certain errors in his appeal, which were denied, and he then applied for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court. However, he only raised "a subset of [his] prosecutorial misconduct claims." His petition was denied, at which point he applied for federal habeas corpus relief. In his habeas petition, Rahman brought up the full set of prosecutorial misconduct claims, most of which were denied for not having been raised to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The case went through various and sundry other proceedings, including a denial of cert by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Supreme Court came out with a rule that stated that for federal habeas purposes, a claim need not be raised to that court in order for a defendant to have exhausted his state remedies. Thus, if that rule had been around when Rahman raised his first habeas petition, the federal courts would have considered the prosecutorial misconduct claims that were denied for failure to exhaust state remedies. Rahman then filed a Rule 60(b) motion, usually used to remedy extraordinary injustices like fraud on the court, in order to get the district court to consider his prosecutorial misconduct claims. The district court considered the motion to be a successive habeas claim and sent it to the Sixth Circuit. The panel agreed and denied the relief sought. Simultaneously, Rahman asked the circuit to remand the decision to the district court for consideration in light of the new Tennessee rule. The Sixth Circuit denied that request as well.
Rahman says that the courts below erred by holding that his 60(b) motion was a successive habeas petition, because he never had a ruling on the merits of the claims in that petition. I do not think that the Court will create loophole in current habeas jurisprudence through the use a Rule 60(b) motion. The second question is whether the Sixth Circuit erred by not sending the case back down for consideration of the prosecutorial misconduct claims. I do not think the Court will be convinced that it did. Therefore, I think the Court will AFFIRM.
There is, once again, a supplemental question jurisdiction as to whether the Sixth Circuit had jurisdiction to review the district court's order, and of the Court's own jurisdiction. Without looking too closely, I predict that the Court will find there was jurisdiction.