Vanderbilt garners National Institute of Justice grant

Sep 25, 2006

Professor Nancy King to direct study of 3,000 habeas corpus cases

Vanderbilt University has received a grant of approximately $250,000 from the National Institute of Justice, which is the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, to complete a study of 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, including 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,” Professor 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.

Professor 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,” Professor 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 & Dispute Resolution Program, which is directed by Vanderbilt 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, will also guide the research design and analysis.

Nancy King is an expert in the field of criminal procedure. She has authored or coauthored two leading treatises on criminal procedure, the nation’s leading criminal procedure casebook, as well as 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. Professor King is a member of the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Vanderbilt University Law School has trained excellent lawyers for careers throughout the nation and the world for more than 125 years. Headed by Dean Edward L. Rubin, the law school is ranked among the top 20 law schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, with a faculty that includes top scholars in constitutional law, complex litigation, torts, law and business, international law, property law, criminal law, contract law, dispute resolution, law and biology, law and economics, and other areas.


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