Brown v. Warden (P)

The petition for habeas corpus before this court should be dismissed. In 1970, the petitioner was convicted of the murder of a 4-year-old child. His original death sentence was vacated following Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), and he was resentenced to life in prison.

The petitioner asserts that forensic advances have revealed flaws in hair and fiber evidence admitted at his trial. Although he concedes his petition is untimely, but he asserts that, if applied to him, this statutory limitation period would violate the bar against suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as set forth in the Suspension Clause of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of Virginia. This court disagrees.

The petitioner challenges only the reliability of the evidence adduced at his trial – not the subject matter jurisdiction of the sentencing court to address his case – and he attempts to present new evidence which, he contends, shows he is actually innocent. The use of the writ to challenge non-jurisdictional claims of the sort the petitioner alleges was unknown to the drafters of Virginia’s Suspension Clause, and they could not have intended to protect a convicted prisoner’s ability to raise them. Accordingly, the petitioner’s inability to now question and present new evidence bearing on his factual guilt or innocence does not violate the Suspension Clause.

In so holding, this court joins numerous other states which have rejected similar challenges to their own limitation periods.

Petition dismissed.

Brown v. Warden (P), No. 161421, Apr. 11, 2019. SCV (per curiam).

Categories: Opinions, Published, Supreme Court of Virginia

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