LONCHAR v. THOMAS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
95-5015
Petitioner 
Lonchar
Respondent 
Thomas
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Larry Grant Lonchar was sentenced to death for murder nine years ago. After the affirmance of Lonchar's conviction and sentence, his sister and brother filed "next friend" state habeas corpus petitions. Lonchar opposed both. Lonchar then filed a state habeas corpus petition, which was dismissed. Shortly before Lonchar's scheduled execution, he filed another state habeas corpus petition. When the petition was denied, Lonchar filed an "eleventh hour" federal petition, his first, on the day of his scheduled execution. The District Court held that Lonchar's conduct in waiting almost nine years to file his federal petition did not constitute an independent basis for rejecting the petition and granted a stay to permit time for consideration of other grounds for dismissal raised by the State. The court had reasoned that federal Habeas Corpus Rule 9, not some generalized equitable authority to dismiss, governed the case. The Court of Appeals vacated the stay. Setting aside the Rules and traditional habeas doctrine, the court held that equitable doctrines independent of Rule 9 applied and it concluded that Lonchar did not merit equitable relief.

Question 

May a federal court dismiss a first federal habeas petition for general "equitable" reasons beyond those embodied in the federal Habeas Corpus Rules?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Lonchar, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 28 USC 2241-2255 (habeas corpus)

No. In an opinion authored by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Court held that federal Habeas Corpus Rule 9, not some general "equitable" power to create exceptions to the Rule, should have determined whether or not a petition's dismissal was appropriate. Justice Breyer wrote for the court that a long delay does not generally constitute an abuse of the system, adding, "[d]ismissal of a first habeas petition is a particularly serious matter for that dismissal denies the petitioner the protections of the Great Writ entirely."

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LONCHAR v. THOMAS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_5015>.
LONCHAR v. THOMAS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_5015 (last visited November 25, 2014).
"LONCHAR v. THOMAS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 25, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_5015.