Man Gets New Chance to Fight Death Penalty

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit breathed life into a death-row inmate’s petition for habeas relief, responding to the Supreme Court’s second remand of the case.

     Joseph Corcoran shot and killed four men in 1997. He was convicted by a jury and received the death penalty.
     His case bounced around the Indiana court system, making two trips to the state Supreme Court, which affirmed the death penalty.
     U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp later found that Indiana prosecutors had violated the Sixth Amendment by offering to forgo the death penalty if Corcoran would waive his right to a jury trial outside of a formal plea bargain.
     After Sharp ordered the trial court to resentence Corcoran to a sentence other than death, Indiana appealed and Corcoran cross-appealed, asking the 7th Circuit to address his other claims for relief.
     Ultimately, the federal appeals court reversed the grant of habeas relief but did not consider those remaining claims. The majority opinion said: “while we believe that the State’s second offer to forego the death penalty if Corcoran tried his case to the bench may be uncommon, the Supreme Court has long instructed that plea agreements may waive constitutional or statutory rights, most pertinently the right to a jury trial.”
     The U.S. Supreme Court intervened next and chastised the lower court for brushing Corcoran’s other challenges aside.
     But the 7th Circuit admits now that it “made two critical misjudgments” on remand. Rather than sending the case back to the District Court for rulings on the remaining claims, the appellate judges deemed them waived or frivolous, leading the Supreme Court to vacate the judgment a second time.
     After this latest upbraiding, the 7th Circuit said it was ready to “get the case back on track.”
     “In hindsight we should have returned the case to the district court after the first remand from the Supreme Court,” the unsigned opinion filed June 23 states. “We do so now. This will permit the parties to fully air Corcoran’s remaining habeas claims and allow the district court to address them in the first instance.”
     Judge Sharp died in July 2009, so U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio will hear Corcoran’s remaining habeas claims on remand.

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