Category: Habeas Corpus

The Riddles of Harmless Error and Habeas Corpus – Part II

Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Brown v. Davenport, No. 20-826 (transcript here; audio here).

The issue in this case involves the standard of review federal habeas courts must apply when reviewing a state court’s determination of harmless error. Davenport was partially shackled during his trial for first-degree murder. On direct appeal, the state appellate courts found that his partial shackling was unconstitutional, but was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under the standard announced in Chapman v. California (1968). Continue reading . . .

The Riddles of Harmless Error and Habeas Corpus

“An error occurred at trial. I have grave doubt whether this error contributed to the verdict. Therefore, no reasonable person could fail to have at least a reasonable doubt whether it contributed to the verdict.”

Does this follow, or is it a non sequitur? The U.S. Supreme Court puzzled over that question this morning in Brown v. Davenport, No. 20-826. To answer it correctly, in my view, the Court may have to disclaim a bit of dictum in Fry v. Pliler (2007). Continue reading . . .

Ineffective Assistance, Strategic Decisions, and Making a Record

The U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up its October 2020 Term with a summary reversal of a federal court of appeals decision for — you guessed it — giving the state court insufficient credit as required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s so-called “deference” provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This time it was the Eleventh Circuit, further undermining my old “circuits divisible by three” rule.

The twist in Dunn v. Reeves, No. 20-1084 is that the Eleventh had based its holding on Justice Sotomayor’s dissent from denial of certiorari earlier in the same case. The unsigned opinion of the Court rebukes the Eleventh for its failure to properly observe § 2254(d), noting that the case is in a different posture on habeas corpus than on the Supreme Court’s direct review of a state court decision. Despite that difference, Justice Sotomayor is livid, with a dissent as long as the opinion of the Court. Continue reading . . .

Supreme Court Takes Up Capital Habeas Corpus Case

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning decided to take up for full briefing and argument the Arizona capital habeas corpus case of Shinn v. Ramirez, No. 20-1009.

The case involves the interaction between the Court’s “equitable exception” to the procedural default rule in Martinez v. Ryan and one of the lesser-known habeas reforms of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2). Continue reading . . .

Ramos Not Retroactive; Second Teague Exception Is Dead

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Edwards v. Vannoy, No. 19-5807, that the rule it established last year that the Constitution requires that criminal case juries must be unanimous is not retroactive to overturn cases that were already final on appeal when Ramos v. Louisiana was decided.

The holding is correct beyond question if one correctly applies the Court’s precedents under Teague v. Lane. For the full details, see the series of posts I wrote after the oral argument:

A Teague Primer

Making an Easy Retroactivity Case Difficult: The Argument in Edwards v. Vannoy — Part I, Overruling Apodaca

Making an Easy Retroactivity Case Difficult: The Argument in Edwards v. Vannoy — Part II, Reasonable Minds Before Ramos

An Easy Retroactivity Case Made Difficult — Part III, Teague‘s Phantom Exception

Today, the ghostbusters have finally purged the phantom. The Court has finally taken the step that I have urged many times since Teague and admitted that the “second exception” for “watershed rules” is not merely comatose, it is dead. It has been dead for a long time, but the false promise required attorneys to brief it and courts to decide it in every habeas retroactivity case. Continue reading . . .

USCA9 “Clearly Erred” on Habeas Corpus. Again.

In today’s only decision from the United States Supreme Court, the court reversed a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in which that court had taken an expansive view of its own jurisdiction. The Supreme Court summarily reversed, meaning that it did not see any need to take further briefing or hear oral argument, as it does when there is some doubt of the correct result. The unsigned opinion says the Ninth Circuit “clearly erred.” No dissent is indicated.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has rebuked the Ninth in this manner on this subject. It is not the second, third, or fourth. I stopped counting years ago.

Why is the Ninth so consistently the “gang that can’t shoot straight” on this particular topic? Continue reading . . .

Supreme Court Summarily Reverses USCA6 in Capital Habeas Case

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning once again reversed a federal court of appeals, this time the Sixth Circuit, for exceeding the limits placed on its authority in Congress’s landmark 1996 reform of federal habeas corpus. Mays v. Hines, 20-507, involves a Tennessee murder case where the defendant was convicted on overwhelming evidence of stabbing to death an employee in a motel and stealing the motel cash, along with the employee’s car.

In state collateral review, the witness who discovered the body finally admitted that he had lied about the reason he was at the motel. He was there for an illicit rendezvous. But this had very little to do with the strength of the evidence that Hines was the murderer, and so the state courts left the judgment intact. Continue reading . . .

An Easy Retroactivity Case Made Difficult — Part III, Teague‘s Phantom Exception

This post concludes the series on the U.S. Supreme Court case of Edwards v. Vannoy, No. 19-5807, argued December 2. The question presented is whether the Court’s decision last term in Ramos v. Louisiana is retroactive to overturn judgments that were already final on direct appeal when the decision came down. On the well-established body of law under Teague v. Lane, the answer is very clearly no, yet the Court seemed to have a surprising amount of difficulty with it during the argument.

The previous two posts (see index at the end) demonstrated that the conditions for the Teague rule to come into play were met. Ramos is certainly a “new rule” within the meaning of the Teague cases. It is a rule of procedure and not substantive law. The remaining question is whether it qualifies for an exception that no new rule in the three decades since Teague has qualified for. The answer, again, is clearly no. Continue reading . . .

Making an Easy Retroactivity Case Difficult: The Argument in Edwards v. Vannoy — Part II, Reasonable Minds Before Ramos

In the previous post in this series, I noted that the Supreme Court has stated clearly that any decision that overrules a prior decision is necessarily a “new rule” for the purpose of Teague v. Lane. The 1972 cases that upheld non-unanimous 12-person juries in state criminal cases, Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972) and Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356 (1972), were decisions for the purpose of this rule, even if neither contained one opinion that expressed a rationale agreed to by a majority.

Nonetheless, in Ramos v. Louisiana, three Justices opined that these cases were not precedents, and therefore the Supreme Court did not need to go through the usual analysis of whether to overrule a precedent in order to strike down Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law. If we assumed that the view of these three was correct for the sake of argument, would it follow that Ramos is not a “new rule” for the purpose of retroactivity under Teague? No. Continue reading . . .