Monday, April 11, 2011

Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388 (2011)

Note: this case has been previously reviewed and discussion of the facts and the relevant statutes in the 9th Circuit case are not repeated. The details of the brutal killing described in an earlier blog require no repetition.
Pinholster was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a California jury and judge in 1984-twenty seven years ago.  The California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and penalty on appeal, and denied two petitions for habeas corpus alleging ineffective counsel.
The U.S. District Court subsequently held an evidentiary hearing. Pinholster presented evidence never previously submitted to the California Supreme Court, and the trial judge granted the petition upon finding counsel "ineffective." On appeal of the district court decision by the State, the 9th Circuit agreed the court could hear previously unsubmitted evidence on federal habeas corpus. Eight judges dissented.

This incomprehensible rule was jettisoned by the Supreme Court.  The Justices reversed the 9th Circuit (again), enforcing application of 28 U.S.C.2254 (d) (AEDPA), the statutory limitation on federal intervention of state court decisions on collateral review.

In the future, a federal habeas court is forbidden from considering any evidence not presented to a state court on a habeas petition; 28 U.S.C. 2254 (d) (1).  The Supreme Court: "Today . . . we hold that evidence introduced in a federal court has no bearing on § 2254(d)(1) review. If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal habeas petitioner must overcome the limitation of § 2254(d)(1) on the record that was before that state court." And this: "It would be strange to ask federal courts to analyze whether a state court's adjudication resulted in a decision that unreasonably applied federal law to facts not before the state court."
The Supreme Court also rejected the Ninth Circuit decision that the California Supreme Court improperly ruled on the ineffective counsel claim, citing the seminal case of Strickland v. Washington, (cite omitted). The Supreme Court repeatedly reminded the 9th Circuit that the test for "ineffective counsel" is not based on an independent review of the state court case comparable to ruling on direct appeal but whether its decision was unreasonable under 2254.

The language in Pinholster  should end the repeated attempts by the 9th Circuit to circumvent the law on "ineffective counsel."  

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