Shoop v. Twyford: Federal courts cannot issue transportation orders for testing unless the evidence from the tests would be legally admissible
District courts cannot issue transportation orders to enable habeas petitioners to obtain medical tests for their case, unless the petitioners first show that the evidence they hope to find will be admissible, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 21 in Shoop v. Warden.
Raymond Twyford was convicted of aggravated murder in Ohio, and sentenced to death.
After his state remedies were unsuccessful, Twyford sought federal habeas relief.
He asked the District Court to issue a writ to transport him to The Ohio State University Medical Center for various brain scans which, he claimed, “could plausibly lead to the development of evidence,” and could help him overcome “procedural default or exhaustion.”
The District Court granted the motion and ordered the State to transport him to the Medical Center. The District Court did not address whether it ultimately would be able to consider the evidence Twyford hoped to develop.
The Government took an interlocutory appeal.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed. It held courts were not required to consider the admissibility of any resulting evidence before issuing a writ for transportation.
The Supreme Court reversed, in a 5-4 opinion.
The All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1651(a), authorizes federal courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”
“[T]he transportation order was not ‘necessary or appropriate in aid of’ the District Court’s jurisdiction because Twyford failed to show that the evidence he hoped to find would be useful to his habeas case,” the Court said.
The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) restricts the ability of a federal habeas court to develop and consider new evidence, except in “quite limited situations,” the Court said.
A court “must, consistent with AEDPA, determine at the outset whether the new evidence sought could be lawfully considered,” the Court said.
“[A] writ seeking new evidence would not be ‘necessary or appropriate in aid of’ a federal court’s jurisdiction … if it enables a prisoner to fish for unusable evidence, in the hope that it might undermine his conviction in some way,” the Court said.
“A writ that enables a prisoner to gather evidence that would not be admissible would needlessly prolong resolution of the federal habeas case,” and “frustrate the State’s interest in finality,” the Court said.
“Twyford never explained how the results of the neurological testing could be admissible in his habeas proceeding, and it is hard to see how they could be,” the Court said.
If a petitioner cannot meet AEDPA’s “standards for admitting new merits evidence, it serves no purpose to develop such evidence just to assess cause and prejudice,” the Court concluded.
Justice Breyer dissented, in an opinion joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.
The Court should not have reached the merits of the case because the Sixth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to hear the interlocutory appeal, Breyer said.
He said the Court was extending interlocutory appeals to “a new category of orders, which it describes as transportation orders issued under the All Writs Act.”
Justice Gorsuch dissented in a separate opinion. He agreed with Breyer that to address the merits, the Court extended interlocutory appeals to “a new class of cases.”
Gorsuch “would have dismissed this case as improvidently granted when the jurisdictional complication became apparent.”