Tibbals v. Carter
March 19, 2012
Case #: 11-218
Court Below: 644 F.3d 329 (6th Cir. 2011)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/11a0146p-06.pdf
Habeas Corpus: Whether a prisoner who has been sentenced to death has a "right to competence" and if so whether a federal court may stay habeas proceedings indefinitely.
Respondent was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. After Respondent exhausted his state reviews and stopped communicating with counsel, his attorneys filed a habeas petition along with a motion for a competency hearing.
The district court held a competency hearing and found Respondent incompetent. Applying the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rohan ex rel. Gates v. Woodford the district court found a statutory "right to competence" in habeas proceedings, dismissed the habeas petition without prejudice, and tolled the statute of limitations until Respondent was competent. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed but used different reasoning. Rather than using Rohan, the Sixth Circuit found a statutory "right to competence" under Rees v. Peyton, 384 U.S. 312 (1966). The Sixth Circuit stated that the district court should have followed the remedy in Rohan and stayed the petition until Respondent was found competent instead of dismissing the petition without prejudice.
Petitioner argues that the Sixth Circuit applied Rees too broadly because Rees only applies when a prisoner on death row abandons legal proceedings and has never been used to establish a "right to competence". Additionally, Petitioner argues that the court's decision will permit prisoners to obtain an indefinite stay easily and consequently will obstruct justice in the Sixth Circuit.