Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bobby v. Van Hook, 130 S.Ct. 13 (2009)

The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly reversed death penalty cases on grounds of "ineffective counsel." With a single exception, the Ninth Circuit overruled, in effect, every state supreme court decision affirming a conviction and sentence in death penalty cases since the year 2000. No matter what investigation defense counsel undertook to investigate and present mitigating evidence, the scope was always deficient.
In Van Hook, a unanimous Supreme Court wrote a narrow decision criticizing the Sixth Circuit for slavishly adhering to the ABA rules on the duty of defense counsel in capital cases. Although the Supreme Court focused on, and rejected, ABA rules as "guidelines" for defense counsel, the Justices indirectly criticized federal courts insisting on an endless quest by defense counsel for mitigation evidence.
In Van Hook, the Supreme Court never mentions the Ninth Circuit record of reversals of capital cases, but its decision warrants the conclusion that judicially arguing over whether counsel "investigated enough" is no longer sufficient to set aside a death penalty case already affirmed by a state court. In all cases the Ninth Circuit invokes habeas corpus to mandate a new trial, release from custody, or re sentencing despite decisions by a trial judge, the state supreme court, and a U.S. District Court judge who have affirmed the trial and sentence.
Reversed & remanded.

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