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Court rules in favor of capital defendant in Magwood v. Patterson

DISCLOSURE: Howe & Russell and Akin Gump represented the petitioner in this case.

Federal habeas law generally allows prisoners to bring a single habeas petition; “second and successive” petitions are highly disfavored and must meet very strict criteria.  This morning, the Court held in Magwood v. Patterson (No. 09-158), that when a criminal defendant succeeds in having his original sentence overturned, a later habeas petition challenging his new sentence should be treated as a first petition (not as a “second or successive” petition), even if it raises grounds that could have (but were not) made against the original sentence.  Writing for himself and Justices Stevens, Scalia, Breyer, and Sotomayor, Justice Thomas explained that under the text of the federal habeas statute, when a prisoner is resentenced and appeals the new sentence, he is challenging a different judgment than was challenged in his prior habeas petition.  Justice Kennedy, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg and Alito, dissented.