Wilson v. Corcoran, No. 10–91.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation131 S.Ct. 13,562 U.S. 1,178 L.Ed.2d 276
Docket NumberNo. 10–91.
Decision Date08 November 2010
Parties Bill K. WILSON, Superintendent, Indiana State Prison, Petitioner, v. Joseph E. CORCORAN.

562 U.S. 1
131 S.Ct.
13
178 L.Ed.2d 276

Bill K. WILSON, Superintendent, Indiana State Prison, Petitioner,
v.
Joseph E. CORCORAN.

No. 10–91.

Supreme Court of the United States

Nov. 8, 2010.


131 S.Ct. 14

PER CURIAM.

562 U.S. 1

Federal courts may not issue writs of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinement does not violate federal law. Because the Court of Appeals granted the writ to respondent

562 U.S. 2

without finding such a violation, we vacate its judgment and remand.

* * *

In 1997, respondent Joseph Corcoran shot and killed four men, including his brother and his sister's fiance. An Indiana jury found him guilty of four counts of murder, found the statutory aggravating circumstance of multiple murders, and unanimously recommended capital punishment. The trial judge agreed and sentenced respondent to death.

But on appeal, the Supreme Court of Indiana vacated the sentence out of concern

131 S.Ct. 15

that the trial judge might have violated Indiana law by relying partly on nonstatutory aggravating factors when imposing the death penalty. Corcoran v. State, 739 N.E.2d 649, 657–658 (2000). When addressing respondent at sentencing, the trial court had remarked:

" ‘[T]he knowing and intentional murders of four innocent people is an extremely heinous and aggravated crime.... I don't think in the history of this county we've had a mass murderer such as yourself. It makes you, Mr. Corcoran, a very dangerous, evil mass murderer. And I am convinced in my heart of hearts, ... if given the opportunity, you will murder again.’ " Id., at 657 (quoting transcript).

According to the Indiana Supreme Court, the trial judge's reference to the innocence of respondent's victims, the heinousness of his offense, and his future dangerousness was not necessarily improper; it is permissible to provide "an appropriate context for consideration of the alleged aggravating and mitigating circumstances." Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). But because the trial court might have meant that it weighed these factors as aggravating circumstances, the Indiana Supreme Court remanded for resentencing. See ibid.

On remand, the trial court issued a revised sentencing order. It wrote:

562 U.S. 3
" ‘The trial Court, in balancing the proved aggravators and mitigators, emphasizes to the Supreme Court that it only relied upon those proven statutory aggravators. The trial Court's remarks at the sentencing hearing, and the language in the original sentencing order explain why such high weight was given to the statutory aggravator of multiple murder, and further support the trial Court's personal conclusion that the sentence is appropriate punishment for this offender and these crimes.’ " Corcoran v. State, 774 N.E.2d 495, 498 (Ind.2002) (quoting order).

On appeal, over respondent's objection, the Supreme Court accepted this explanation and affirmed the sentence. Id., at 498–499, 502. It explained that it was "now satisfied that the trial court has relied on only aggravators listed in Indiana Code § 35–50–2–9(b).... There is no lack of clarity in [the trial court's] statement and no plausible reason to believe it untrue." Id., at 499.

Respondent later applied to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana for a writ of habeas corpus. His habeas petition asserted a number of grounds for relief, including a renewed claim that, notwithstanding its assurances to the contrary, the trial court improperly relied on nonstatutory aggravating factors when it resentenced him. Respondent also asserted that this reliance violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Record, Doc. 13, p. 11. In its response to the petition, the State specifically disputed that contention. Id., Doc. 33, at 16 ("[Respondent] fails to establish any constitutional deficiency in [the] Indiana Supreme Court's review of the trial court's treatment of Corcoran's sentence on remand, let alone does it show that the state supreme court's judgment is in any way inconsistent with applicable United States Supreme Court precedent").

The District Court, however, had no need to resolve this dispute because it granted habeas relief on a wholly different

562 U.S. 4

ground: that an offer by the prosecutor to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a waiver of a jury trial had violated the Sixth Amendment. Corcoran v. Buss, 483 F.Supp.2d 709, 725–726 (2007). It did not address the sentencing challenge because that was "rendered moot" by the grant of habeas relief. Id., at 734.

131 S.Ct. 16

The State appealed, and the Seventh Circuit reversed the District Court's Sixth Amendment ruling. Corcoran v. Buss, 551 F.3d 703, 712, 714 (2008). Then, evidently...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2043 practice notes
  • Frederickson v. Landeros, No. 18-1605
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 26, 2019
    ..., 907 F.3d 487, 494–95 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing both due-process and equal-protection decisions). See also, e.g., Wilson v. Corcoran , 562 U.S. 1, 5, 131 S.Ct. 13, 178 L.Ed.2d 276 (2010) (holding that, because a violation of state law cannot be equated to a violation of the Constitution, it ......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...'only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or law or treaties of the United States.'" Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). As such, this court's review of claims seeking habeas relief is limited to questions of federal const......
  • Matthews v. Parker, No. 09–5464.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 31, 2011
    ...proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A mistake of state law is not itself a basis for habeas relief. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16, 178 L.Ed.2d 276 (2010) (per curiam); Baze, 371 F.3d at 322. In reviewing this ground for habeas relief, the relevant question is whether......
  • Russell v. Warden Prison, C/A No. 0:15-267-DCN-PJG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2015
    ...with federal law that renders a State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts," Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 4 (2010) (emphasis in original), and "it is not the province of a federal habeas corpus court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-l......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2025 cases
  • Frederickson v. Landeros, No. 18-1605
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 26, 2019
    ..., 907 F.3d 487, 494–95 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing both due-process and equal-protection decisions). See also, e.g., Wilson v. Corcoran , 562 U.S. 1, 5, 131 S.Ct. 13, 178 L.Ed.2d 276 (2010) (holding that, because a violation of state law cannot be equated to a violation of the Constitution, it ......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...'only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or law or treaties of the United States.'" Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). As such, this court's review of claims seeking habeas relief is limited to questions of federal const......
  • Matthews v. Parker, No. 09–5464.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 31, 2011
    ...proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A mistake of state law is not itself a basis for habeas relief. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16, 178 L.Ed.2d 276 (2010) (per curiam); Baze, 371 F.3d at 322. In reviewing this ground for habeas relief, the relevant question is whether......
  • Russell v. Warden Prison, C/A No. 0:15-267-DCN-PJG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2015
    ...with federal law that renders a State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts," Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 4 (2010) (emphasis in original), and "it is not the province of a federal habeas corpus court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-l......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT