FIFTH CIRCUIT CLOSES DOOR TO HABEAS PETITION THAT COULD HAVE SHINED LIGHT ON BROAD MISCONDUCT IN MISSISSIPPI
As comprehensively reported by Radley Balko, and picked up by the Washington Post here, the Fifth Circuit recently declined to permit Mississippi inmate, Tavares Flaggs, from filing a successive 28 U.S.C. § 2254, or habeas, application. The panel, which included Jerry Smith, Grady Jolly, and Edith Clement, ruled that “the factual predicate” underlying Flaggs’ claims was “not new,” and therefore did not warrant permission to file another application for habeas relief. In and of itself this result is hardly newsworthy, but underlying and supporting Flaggs’ petition, filed by the Mississippi Innocence Project, was an extraordinary catalogue of potential misconduct emanating from the actions of Steven Hayne, “a medical examiner who for about two decades was able to monopolize the autopsy business in Mississippi.”
While it is unclear whether and to what extent the information in the Project’s filing was “new” as required under Section 2254 (Flaggs’ apparently filed his first habeas application in 2011, and some of the issues from Haynes’s shoddy work were already known), at the very least there should be cause for concern that individuals formerly and currently imprisoned in Mississippi may be actually innocent and/or at least the unwitting victims of a state-sanctioned and enabled medical examiner whose work was sub-standard and not credible. According to Balko, Hayne’s work has already “led to at least two wrongful convictions, and acquittals after new trials were granted in other cases.” Unfortunately, because most of the cases with the potential to shine a light on Hayne’s activities are post-conviction and subject to “finality” concerns underlying the “new” Section 2254, without some political movement or federal intervention, it is unlikely that a hearing on the potential depth of this scandal will ever occur.