Today continued the trend. In Jenkins v. Hutton, the court summarily reversed a divided 6th Circuit panel opinion that had granted a habeas petition to death-row inmate Percy Hutton, concluding that Hutton could raise a procedurally defaulted claim challenging the adequacy of the jury instructions in order to avoid a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.” The Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that the 6th Circuit was too quick to excuse the procedural default. “On the facts of this case, the Sixth Circuit was wrong to hold that it could review Hutton’s claim under the miscarriage of justice exception to procedural default,” the court’s per curiam opinion explained.
Interestingly enough, the court decided another capital habeas case today, McWilliams v. Dunn. In this case, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the death-row inmate. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, held that, under Ake v. Oklahoma, the Alabama courts had unreasonably denied James McWilliams the assistance of a qualified mental health expert to help prepare his defense. Justice Samuel Alito dissented, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.