St. Thomas Law Review

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"An inscription on the walls of the Department of Justice states the proposition candidly for the federal domain: 'The United States wins its point whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts."" The importance that finality of convictions has on our society comes only second to ensuring that those who were convicted and sentenced were treated fairly. The availability of post-conviction relief to prisoners is a vital function of our criminal justice system, not as a means of "loopholes" criminals can use to be set free, but to ensure that all of our citizens are treated justly and within the bounds of our Constitution. "[W]hen is it fair to give defendants whose cases were settled long ago the benefit of a new Supreme Court decision, versus when is it fair ... to leave old cases 'final' even when the law changes later on constitutional grounds?" This Comment discusses the conflicting policies that surround the availability of habeas corpus relief to federal prisoners. First, this Comment will provide a brief background of habeas corpus, its governing statute of limitations, and the retroactivity requirement as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Second, this Comment will explain that this interpretation of the retroactivity requirement created a right without a remedy to successive habeas corpus petitioners. Next, this Comment will briefly outline and then dismiss the main policy arguments that favor finality of convictions over their fairness. And lastly, this Comment will propose a solution to the retroactivity problem by calling upon Congress to amend the statute in a way that will provide the relief it intended, or, in the alternative, by asking the Supreme Court to allow successive habeas corpus petitions to be equitably tolled until the Supreme Court expressly decides whether each new rule of law is applicable retroactively to cases on collateral review.