Thursday, December 11, 2008

Doody v. Schriro, 596 F.3d 620 (9th Cir. 2009); Cert. Granted & Reversed; Ryan v. Doody, 131 S.Ct. 456 (2010); on remand 9th Circuit reversed again; 646 F.3d 626

Here is the opening paragraph of the 9th Circuit decision in Doody v. Schriro [Warden], 566 F.3d 839 (2009) reviewing on habeas corpus an Arizona Court of Appeals decision affirming conviction of one Jonathon Doody: Seventeen-year-old Jonathon Doody was interrogated overnight for twelve hours straight. When after several hours, he fell silent and refused to answer the officers questions, the officer persisted, asking dozens of questions, many over and over again, and telling him he had to answer them. The resulting confession was used in Arizona state court to convict Doody of multiple counts of murder and robbery; Doody v. Schriro [Warden] 548 F.3d 847 (9th Cir. 2008).
With that obviously biased statement, the conclusion in the case is forgone. Once again the 9th Circuit overrides the Arizona Court of Appeals who had originally heard this case on appeal and concluded the confession was voluntary. Doody was tried in 1991 and this case decided by the 9th Circuit in 2008. Post conviction relief in state court denied, Doody sought habeas corpus in federal court.

Seventeen years after conviction, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the evidence convicting Doody for the vicious crime of murdering six helpless Buddhist monks in their temple. Police had immediately launched a massive investigation after discovery of the bodies, and the murder weapon had been found in a car belonging to a roommate of Doody. The roommate told police that Doody and one Garcia had borrowed the weapon.

During a preliminary interview with Doody, officers learned of his familiarity with the temple, having visited his brother several times at that location. Later, after learning Doody had borrowed the murder weapon, officers formally interviewed him. This interview, and its admissions by Doody, was the subject of review in the Arizona trial court. Garcia pled guilty to nine counts; testified at trial against Doody; was sentenced to life imprisonment; and avoided the death penalty pursuant to a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against Doody. According to Garcias' testimony, Doody planned the murder.

The trial court conducted a ten day hearing on a motion to suppress the confessions of Doody and Garcia. Doody did not testify at the hearing, the trial court denied the motion, and admitted the evidence at trial based on the taped audio confession supplemented by testimony from the officers. The jury convicted Doody of felony murder. On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeal also listened to the audio confession. The tape included an adequate and informed Miranda warning and Doody agreed to talk. The Arizona Court of Appeals found the Miranda waivers acceptable and the confession voluntary. The 9th Circuit found the Miranda waivers acceptable but the confession involuntary.

At the trial, the prosecution established the waiver of Miranda and introduced the confession. Within two hours of the interview with the officers, Doody implicated himself. Four hours later he conceded his culpability although denying he used the shotgun. The 9th Circuit invoked all the standard case law on voluntary confessions, criticized the thirteen hour police interview, and held it involuntary despite adequate Miranda waivers. The Arizona court examined the same records as the 9th Circuit and held the confession voluntary.

The 9h Circuit decision is completely at odds with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) prohibiting precisely this kind of federal court second guessing the state courts; 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Arizona trial court held a ten day hearing, the trial judge listened to the tape and observed other witnesses who testified-except Doody who did not testify. Reasonable minds can differ whether the confession was voluntary, although the trial judge-and the jury-and the Court of Appeals all found the confession voluntary. Under AEDPA the statute limits jurisdiction of federal courts reviewing habeas corpus of state court cases unless the state court decision is unreasonable, not just incorrect.[Citations omitted).

Here is the 9th Circuit reasoning: Garcia testified Doody planned the murder, i.e., premeditated killing the monks, an element necessary for conviction of first degree murder. The jury found Doody guilty of felony murder, i.e., the killing of another in the course of committing a felony. Therefore, said the 9th Circuit, the jury believed Doody did not premeditate, only complicit in the felony murder. Therefore, the conviction could have been based on Doodys' confession alone.

This kind of reasoning defies common sense, is based on sheer speculation, and is another example of a clear violation of AEDPA. The trial took 34 days, other witnesses testified, the jury found Doody guilty. Seventeen years later, unless any witnesses are available, a confessed murderer will be free. The most disturbing element in this case is the manipulation of the evidence supporting the confession. Upon reading the Ninth Circuit summary of the confession, a reasonable interpretation is possible. Until you read the Arizona court review of the same evidence, also a reasonable interpretation. And the 9th Circuit ignores AEDPA. Again. The underlying rationale of this decision: prohibit imposition of the death penalty. The Supreme Court reversed the 9thCircuit and ordered it to reconsider; Ryan v. Doody, cited above.
On reconsideration the 9th Circuit rewrote its opinion and refused to affirm this conviction now twenty years old; 2011 WL 3512283.   

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