Delo v. Stokes
After respondent Stokes was convicted and sentenced to death in Missouri, he filed three unsuccessful habeas corpus petitions in the federal courts. A few days before his scheduled execution, he filed an application for stay of execution pending consideration of a fourth habeas petition. The District Court found that the imposition of a stay was warranted by the issues raised in his claim that the state courts had selectively applied the rules governing lesser included offense instructions in capital murder cases in violation of his right to equal protection. The Court of Appeals denied the State's motion to vacate the stay.
Held: The District Court abused its discretion in granting the stay. A stay of execution pending disposition of a second or successive federal habeas petition can be granted only when there are substantial grounds upon which relief can be granted. Here, there are no such grounds, because Stokes' fourth petition clearly constitutes an abuse of the writ. His claim could have been raised in his first petition for federal habeas, and the principles he asserts are not novel and could have been developed long before this application.