Cases & Deals

Walker Whatley's petition for habeas relief from unconstitutionally vague state sentencing enhancement granted by Seventh Circuit

Client(s) Whatley, Walker

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously held that Jones Day's client Walker Whatley’s petition for habeas corpus should be granted because he was convicted and sentenced under an unconstitutionally vague state statute.

Mr. Whatley’s sentence was enhanced because he was less than one thousand feet from a “youth program center.” In the state courts, Mr. Whatley challenged this sentencing enhancement as unconstitutionally vague, but ultimately did not prevail. He then filed for federal habeas relief, but the district court held he had procedurally defaulted the claim raised in his federal habeas petition and did not address the merits of the claim.

The Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed in a forty-five page published opinion. The court concluded that Mr. Whatley did not default his claim and that the state court unreasonably applied federal law on constitutional vagueness in rejecting Mr. Whatley’s challenge to the sentencing enhancement. It held that AEDPA did not bar relief and instructed the district court to grant Mr. Whatley’s habeas petition. Subsequently, the district court ordered the state to release Mr. Whatley.

Mr. Whatley was represented pro bono by Noel Francisco and Michael Murray from the Washington, D.C. office of global law firm Jones Day. The Seventh Circuit appointed Michael Murray to serve as counsel for Mr. Whatley.

Whatley v. Zatecky, 833 F.3d 762 (7th Cir. 2016)