Defense counsel failed to fully explore a causation defense. The defense attorney consulted with a noted pathologist, but failed to give him the full file. Because of this, a vital causation defense was missed. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the Defendant an evidentiary hearing and affirmed the conviction. The federal court held an evidentiary hearing, and found that counsel was ineffective. The Sixth Circuit upheld the conviction finding that the Michigan Court’s decision was objectively unreasonable. The Court found that the ruling of was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Critically, the Sixth Circuit found that the presumption of strategy afforded to an attorney’s decision could only take place after counsel did the required investigation.
Credit goes to my friend Patrick Rose at michapp.com for spotting this ruling. He has a much more extensive discussion of the ruling here.
On the same day, the Court also handed down Premo v Moore which overturned another Ninth Circuit grant of a habeas corpus finding that that the Court did not afford sufficient deference to the ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court. Collectively, it sounds like the Court is attempting to send a message to the Ninth Circuit similar to the message it sent the Sixth Circuit last year.
SCOTUS Finds that Pennsylvania’s Fugitive Disentitlement Rule is a Valid State Procedural Default Rule
“Whether the Sixth Circuit erred in holding that the Michigan Supreme Court failed to apply clearly established precedent by denying habeas relief on double jeopardy grounds when the state trial court declared a mistrial after the foreperson said that the jury was not going to be able to reach a verdict.” Read More...
SCOTUS Finds Death Penalty Counsel Ineffective for Failing to Put on Post Traumatic Stress Evidence in Mitigation Hearing
Sixth Circuit Remands Michigan Habeas for Determination of Whether Counsel Improperly Denied the Defendant Right to Public Trial
The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari today to hear Magwood v. Culliver, Supreme Court No. 09-158. The Court limited the cert granted to one question: "When a person is resentenced after having obtained federal habeas relief from an earlier sentence, is a claim in a federal habeas petition challenging that new sentencing judgment a “second or successive” claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) if the petitioner could have challenged his previous sentence on the same constitutional grounds?" A review of the Eleventh Circuit's ruling below shows that the issue may be a little more nuanced than the Statement of Questions presented. The Eleventh Circuit ruled that issues which arose at a resentencing could be challenged on a new habeas corpus without it being deemed sucessive, but that legal errors which could have been litigated in the first habeas corpus cannot be challenged even though the error was repeated at the second sentencing. The Eleventh Circuit overturned a grant of habeas corpus to the prisoner. The cert was granted to the prisoner. Here are links to the cert petition, the State's answer, and the Petitioner's reply.
The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in a Nov. 9 per curiam opinion that the American Bar Association's Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases may not be treated as setting the standard of prevailing professional norms when a court is assessing a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court reversed a grant of habeas corpus relief to an Ohio death-row inmate that was predicated on the circuit court's determination that counsel for the petitioner at his trial more than two decades ago failed to satisfy the 2003 ABA standards for uncovering and presenting mitigating evidence. Bobby v. Van Hook, U.S., No. 09-144, 11/9/09. The Legal Times Blog has a nice discussion on this ruling.
This past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Wood v. Allen, trying to come up with a working definition of AEDPA deference in habeas corpus cases.Petitioner’s trial teams had three attorneys (one of which had less experience than the others). This lawyer handled the penalty phase, during which he failed to present mitigation evidence, obtained from a competency evaluation, of Wood’s significant mental impairments. It is unclear from the oral arguments what standard the Court will ultimately adopt. It appears that he entire Court was very concerned about articulating a standard that would not further complicate habeas proceedings. What standard they will ultimately choose, however, was in no way clear.Read More...
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari to hear two Michigan habeas corpus cases. In Berghuis v. Smith, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Michigan Supreme Court acted contrary to clearly established United States Supreme Court law when it rejected a Sixth Amendment challenged the racial composition of Mr. Smith’s jury. The Sixth Circuit held that the jury did not reperesente a fair cross-section utilizing the comparative disparity test for evaluating the difference between the number of African-Americans in the community versus in the the jury selection panel. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear whether this ruling is erroneous. Berghuis v Smith, Supreme Court No. 08-1402. The case is currently scheduled for oral arguments on January 20, 2010.
In Berghuis v Thompkins, the Court has granted certiorari to determine whether the Sixth Circuit improperly expanded MIranda to prevent an officer from trying to persuade a defendant to cooperate where the officer tried to persuade the defendant to cooperate. The Defendant had been read his MIranda rights and had neither invoked them nor waived them. An ineffective assistance of counsel issue was also presented in the State’s petition for certiorari, but does not appear to be part of the order granting certiorari. An oral argument does not appear to be set in this case. Since cert was granted on the same day as Berghuis v Smith, orals will probably be in late January or early February.
This week the Court will hear oral arguments in Beard v. Kindler, Supreme Court No. 08-992. The issue is whether a partially enforced fugitive absconder rule constitutes adequate and independent grounds to justify Pennsylvania’s upholding of Joseph Kindler conviction. Mr. Kindler escaped twice from prison. A Pennsylvania state court held, and the state supreme court agreed, that Kindler waived his right to appeal when he fled. But the Third Circuit disagreed and affirmed the district court’s grant of habeas relief.In Beard, the Court will consider when state courts have resolved an inmate’s claims on “adequate grounds” such that federal courts may not review that inmate’s habeas claims. In particular, the Court will consider whether a state procedural default rule like Pennsylvania’s is “inadequate” solely because it is discretionary
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether "gross negligence" by a state-appointed defense attorney in a death penalty case provides a basis for extending the time to file a federal habeas challenge, in a case where the habeas plea was filed late despite repeated instructions from the client.Mr. Holland, a prisoner on Florida's death row, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in a Florida Federal District Court. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely because it was filed beyond the one-year statute of limitations period. On appeal, Holland argued that he was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period for filing his federal habeas petition because of egregious conduct by his counsel during his post-conviction proceedings.Last August, a three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released a per curiam opinion affirming the district court's rejection of an extension to file the challenge. Noting: "Petitioner has offered no reason to believe an evidentiary hearing would help him demonstrate the required extraordinary circumstances to warrant equitable tolling," the appeals court held that: “"no allegation of lawyer negligence or of failure to meet a lawyer's standard of care -- in the absence of an allegation and proof of bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment, or so forth on the lawyer's part -- can rise to egregious attorney misconduct that would entitle the Petitioner to equitable tolling" under the AEDPA.”On Oct. 13, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled for some time early next year . The questions presented include: Whether "gross negligence" by a state-appointed defense attorney in a death penalty case provides a basis for extending the time to file a federal habeas challenge, in a case where the habeas plea was filed late despite repeated instructions from the client. Holland v Florida, Supreme Court No. 09-5327. To read the cert petition, click here. (Updated November 4th).
SCOTUS Blog notes that Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., on Friday cleared the way for the filing in November of a new Guantanamo Bay detainee case, further testing the power of federal judges to weigh or limit transfers of prisoners from that U.S. military prison. The new case is now due to be filed by Nov. 10 in the case of Kiyemba v. Obama — the same title, though with somewhat different issues, as the case the Court on Oct. 20 agreed to hear in docket 08-1234.These cases will explore the limits of last year’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which confirmed a constitutional right for Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their continued detention.
There is compelling evidence that death row inmate Troy Davis may be innocent, but federal and state courts have consistently refused to hear the evidence. Mr. Davis has exhausted all conventionlal challenges to his conviction, Mr. Davis has resorted to an original writ of habeas corpus in the United States Supreme Court. If that petition fails, Mr. Davis will be executed. In refusing to hear Mr. Davis’s appeals, courts have relied on provisions contained in the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act (“AEDPA”) and held that they are barred from hearing the petition. Mr. Barr argues that the courts have misread the law. For more information on Mr. Davis’s case, please see his website which contains many of the opinions and a nice time line of the case.
The federal statute, 28 USC 2253, that requires state prisoners to obtain a certificate of appealability before challenging a district court ruling in habeas corpus proceedings does not apply to appeals of orders denying requests for federally appointed counsel. The statute governs only final orders that dispose of a habeas corpus proceeding's merits. Federally appointed counsel are authorized to represent clients in state clemency proceedings and are entitled to compensation for that representation. Harbison v Bell, SCOTUS No 07-8521.
Linda Greenhouse from the New York Times summarized the doctrine as follows:
Several federal circuits have adopted what has come to be called a consent-once-removed exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The theory is that a suspect who consents to the entry of someone who is really an agent of the police is also, albeit unknowingly, agreeing to let the police enter as well. The police do not need a warrant to enter and search a home if they have the permission of a person authorized to give it.
To read Linda Greenhouse’s complete analysis of the issue, click here. For the SCOTUS blog summary of the case and complete access to the briefs, click here. This case is a civil case and there is also a qualified immunity issue.
On September 8, 2008, a Seventh Circuit panel ruled to the contrary in a published decision. In Osagadie v United States, Seventh Circuit No. 07-113, the Court recognized the continuing viability of the Article 36 issue. The Court first recognized the importance of Article 36:
The adoption of the Vienna Convention by the international community was “the single most important event in the entire history of the consular institution.” LUKE T. LEE, CONSULAR LAW AND PRACTICE 26 (2d ed. 1991). When the United States ratified the treaty in 1969, it became the “supreme Law of the Land.” U.S. CONST. art. VI, cl. 2.
The Court then went onto stress the importance of the treaty:
Foreign nationals who are detained within the United States find themselves in a very vulnerable position. Separated from their families and far from their homelands, they suddenly find themselves swept into a foreign legal system. Language barriers, cultural barriers, lack of resources, isolation and unfamiliarity with local law create “an aura of chaos” around the foreign detainees, which can lead them to make serious legal missteps. Linda A. Malone, From Breard to Atkins to Malvo: Legal Incompetency and Human Rights Norms on the Fringes of the Death Penalty, 13 WM. & MARY BILL RTS. J. 363, 392-93 (2004). In these situations, the consulate can serve as a “cultural bridge” between the foreign detainee and the legal machinery of the receiving state. William J. Aceves, Murphy v. Netherland, 92 AM. J. INT’L L. 87, 89-90 (1998).
The Court went onto note while there is some overlap with the function of a lawyer, the overlap is not complete. There are somethings that an embassy or a consulate are uniquely qualified to do:
Of course, we assume that lawyers here are equipped to deal with language barriers; we also assume they are familiar with the law. Sometimes, however, the assistance of an attorney cannot entirely replace the unique assistance that can be provided by the consulate. The consulate can provide not only an explanation of the receiving state’s legal system but an explanation of how that system differs from the sending state’s system. See Linda Jane Springrose, Note, Strangers in a Strange Land: The Rights of Non-Citizens Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 14 GEO. IMMIGR. L. J. 185, 195 (1999). This assistance can be invaluable because cultural misunderstandings can lead a detainee to make serious legal mistakes, particularly where a detainee’s cultural background informs the way he interacts with law enforcement officials and judges.
The Court noted that Sanchez-Llamas was a good example of the help that a consulate can provide:
Sanchez-Llamas 2 provides a striking example. In Sanchez-Llamas, Bustillo’s defense was that another man, “Sirena,” had committed the crime. Sirena, however, had fled back to Honduras; he was nowhere to be found. “Bustillo did not learn of his right to contact the Honduran consulate until after conviction, at which time the consulate located additional evidence supporting this theory, including a critical taped confession by Sirena.”
Thus far, the Court’s opinion matches the position articulated by dissents and the International Court of Justice. Now here is where the decision gets interesting. The Court stated that Sanchez-Llamas stated that the Government was required to provide a remedy for a violation and the remedy was to internalize this violation into our domestic law. While violation of a Vienna Convention Claim would not be a self-standing violation of the Constitution or federal law requiring suppression of a confession, it could be a Fifth Amendment or a Sixth Amendment violation.
W]e must address the Government’s argument that Sanchez-Llamas forecloses foreign nationals from bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims based on Article 36 violations. A close reading of Sanchez-Llamas suggests otherwise. While the Court rejected the argument that the treaty itself required suppression as a remedy, the Court stressed that there were other means of “vindicating Vienna Convention rights.” Sanchez-Llamas, 548 U.S. at 350, 126 S. Ct. 2669. Specifically, the Court stated that a defendant could raise an Article 36 violation as a part of a broader constitutional challenge, such as a challenge to the voluntariness of a statement under the Fifth Amendment. Id., 126 S. Ct. 2669; see also United States v. Ortiz, 315 F.3d 873, 886 (8th Cir. 2002). More importantly, the Court suggested that the Sixth Amendment could also serve as a vehicle for vindicating Article 36 rights. In a telling passage, the Court noted that an attorney’s failure to raise an Article 36 violation would not be “cause” for overriding a state’s procedural default rules, unless “the attorney’s overall representation falls below what is required by the Sixth Amendment.” Sanchez-Llamas, 548 U.S. at 357 & n.6, 126 S. Ct. 2669 (emphasis added).
Osagiede is a testament to the value of persistence. Mr. Osagiede prevailed on an argument that most lawyers would have rejected.
The Sixth Circuit reversed a habeas petitioner’s murder conviction where he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel was violated at trial and on appeal because of his state attorney’s actual conflict of interest. Boykin v Webb, Sixth Circuit No. 06-5775.boykin
The writ of habeas is the main vehicle which state prisoners use to challenge their convictions in federal court when there is a good argument that the conviction was obtained in violation of the federal laws or the constitution. The writ has been used to challenge such unjust convictions as that of former boxer and current international civil rights activist “Hurricane Rubin Carter.”
In 1996, in the wake of the Oklahoma Federal Courthouse bombing, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. For the first time in the history of the writ of habeas corpus. Congress in its infinite wisdom believed that weakening the power of federal courts to hear such actions would deter the likes of individuals such as Timothy McVeigh.
One of the key provisions of the act was to provide that a federal court must defer to the ruling of a state court unless is to contrary to clear United States Supreme Court holding or is objectively unreasonable. This provision has been interpreted by federal courts to hold that state court rulings which are only contrary to decisions of lower federal courts or which are contrary to the reasonable import (but not clear US Supreme Court holding) must be upheld unless the state court’s interpretation of the law is clearly unreasonable. A good example of this principle is shown in the Court’s 2006 decision in Carey v Musladin. In that case, the victim’s family wore buttons to court with a message calling for justice in memory of the victim. The defendant in the state case had successfully convinced the lower federal appellate court that this conduct violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. The United States Supreme Court reversed. Justice Thomas, writing for a six justice majority , found that the conduct of this group of non-parties might have violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, but no clear U.S. Supreme Court decision had held this. They therefore reinstated the conviction. Three Justices wrote separately, raising questions about allowing spectators to engage in courtroom activity that arguably might impair trial fairness.
A question which has remained unanswered is what federal courts are required to do with state court rulings which are either completely unresponsive to the federal question or where the ruling is so summary that it is impossible to discern the mental process of the state judge(s) who decided the case. Are federal courts required to create a hypothetical state court ruling and defer to it? Or are federal courts permitted to decide the issue for the first time? In Bell v Kelly, the Court has agreed to examine some part of this quandary. The Court has granted certiorari to consider:
“1) whether the deferential 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) standard should apply to a claim resting on evidence that the state court did not consider and was thus introduced for the first time on federal habeas”
Oral arguments are scheduled for November 12th. Mr. Bell’s brief on the merits is available here. The Government’s brief has not been filed yet. The SCOTUS Wiki description of the case and other key documents in the case is available here.
Update: For a copy of the ruling, click here.miller v stovall