Grant will fund study of habeas corpus cases

Oct 9, 2006

The National Institute of Justice – the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice – has awarded Vanderbilt a grant of approximately $250,000 to study the processing of habeas corpus cases in U.S. District Courts.

The study, directed by Nancy J. King, the Lee S. and Charles A. Speir Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, will analyze four general categories of information about these cases: processing times, operation and application of defenses and other limitations on review, claims raised and merits review.

“This study will make available, for the first time, comprehensive empirical information about the processing of capital and non-capital habeas petitions in U.S. District Courts under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,” King said. “The overall goal of the research is to provide impartial findings and analyses that will be useful to Congress, courts, attorneys and researchers in assessing habeas policy.”

A habeas corpus petition is a petition filed with a court by a person who objects to his detention or imprisonment. If a state prisoner is in custody because of a constitutionally flawed state proceeding, a United States District Court may issue a writ of habeas corpus ordering the state to release or retry the petitioner.

King, together with principal investigators Fred Cheesman and Brian Ostrom of the National Center for State Courts, will analyze data collected from approximately 3,000 cases in which state prisoners have alleged that their convictions or sentences were imposed in violation of the Constitution. “This study is the first to examine this litigation under the current statute,” King said. “Several Vanderbilt law students have already assisted in the extensive data collection effort, which has included Internet research as well as visits to district courts in order to research records.”

The cost of the study is being shared by Vanderbilt Law School, in part through a research grant from the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program, which is directed by law professor Richard Nagareda.

An advisory committee whose expert members will represent state attorneys general, petitioners’ attorneys as well as the state and federal judiciary, also will guide the research design and analysis. “I’m excited about the grant we’ve received from the National Institute of Justice and about Nancy King’s project,” said Vanderbilt Law School Dean Edward L. Rubin. “This project promises not only to yield some very useful results, but is also affording an opportunity for Vanderbilt law students to be involved in substantive research.”

King is an expert in the field of criminal procedure. She has authored or co-authored two leading treatises on criminal procedure, the nation’s leading criminal procedure casebook, and dozens of articles and book chapters. Her work focuses on the post-investigative features of the criminal process, including plea bargaining, trials, juries, evidence, sentencing, double jeopardy and post-conviction review. King is a member of the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. 

— Grace Renshaw

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