Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

Carlson v. Attorney General of the State of California, No. 13-16535 [June 26, 2015]

Carlson v. Attorney General of the State of California

Carlson was charged with willful infliction of harm or injury to a child, his 7-year-old son. At trial, Carlson wife and his son did not appear in court, the trial court allowed, under the “forfeiture-by-wrongdoing” doctrine, a police officer to testify to their statements shortly after the incident. The “forfeiture-by-wrongdoing doctrine applies where there has been affirmative action on the part of the defendant that produces the desired result, non-appearance by a prospective witness against him in a criminal case.” The Court upheld the State Court’s use of the doctrine as the evidence supported a finding that Carlson engaged in conduct designed to keep the witnesses from testifying, using the AEDPA standard of giving state-court decisions the benefit of the doubt.


Seeboth v. Allenby, No. 12-17062 [June 18, 2015]

Seeboth v. Allenby

A prisoner’s challenge to California’s Sexually Violent Predator Act as unconstitutional on its face. “[A]bsence of a provision [in the act] setting forth a time within which to hold a trial extending the term of his commitment denies him equal protection of the laws because, under California law, other civilly committed persons have a statutory right to a recommitment trial within a specified period.” The court rejected the claim as it found that the state court conclusion that a person under this act was not similarly situated to other types of commitments, as the state has “a constitutionally sufficient reason for treating groups differently” was reasonable.


Mitchell v. United States, No. 11-99003 [June 19, 2015]

Mitchell v. United States 

2255 claim that counsel was ineffective 1) in failing to assert an intoxication defense at the guilt phase; and 2) in inadequately investigating, and for choosing not to present evidence of mental health, history of substance abuse, and troubled upbringing in the penalty phase. The court held on the intoxication defense that counsel was not ineffective because the evidence failed to support the defense and it was a valid strategic decision to portray the co-defendant as the main malefactor as a defense and not intoxication. On the penalty phase, the Court found that counsel made a “more-than-adequate investigation of the possible mitigation.” It was not ineffective assistance to forgo a mental health, etc., defense at the penalty phase and “make the case that Mitchell had redeeming qualities that made his life worth saving, notwithstanding a rough start in life.” [Reinhardt dissents and he would find ineffective assistance in the penalty phase in presenting the “good guy” defense without a complete investigation and by failing to “give the jurors the opportunity to understand what made him the person he became before they voted to have him executed."


Newman v Wengler, No. 13-36185 [June 16, 2015]

Newman v. Wengler

The Court holds that the Stone v. Powell doctrine survived the enactment of the AEDPA. Therefore, where the state provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas relief on the ground that evidence was obtained in an unconstitutional search or seizure was introduced at trial.


​Zapata v. Vasquez, No. 12-17503 [June 9, 2015]

Zapata v. Vasquez

Petitioner raised a claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failure to object to egregious prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument. In his closing argument, the prosecutor made up a fictional account of what the defendant said prior to the shooting including racial slurs. Defense counsel did not object to this rebuttal argument the court found this failure to be deficient performance, the court further found prejudice because the evidence of guilt was weak, the prominence and timing of the comments, i.e. during rebuttal argument, the comments were not reasonable inferences from the record, the comments were not invited by defense counsel, and no specific limiting instruction was given


Bemore v. Chappell, No 12-99005 [June 9, 2015]

Bemore v. Chappell

The petitioner raised a conflict of interest claim that his defense counsel was involved in the fraudulent misuse of defense funds, the court found no evidence that an actual conflict of interest affected his lawyer's performance because overcharging the court has no "inherent tendency to dissuade counsel from loyalty to his client." The petitioner also made several ineffective assistance of counsel claims in both the guilt and penalty phases. The court found trial counsel's investigation and preparation of the alibi defense constituted deficient performance where counsel 1) expended minimal effort that failed to alert him to critical flaws in the alibi presented; and 2) failed to investigate a viable alternative mental health defense. The court found no prejudice from these errors at the guilt phase but found prejudice in the penalty phase on the failure to investigate and present a mental health defense as it is imperative that all relevant mitigating information be unearthed 


​Pensinger v. Chappell, No. 12-99006 & 13-99000 [June 2, 2015]

Pensinger v. Chappell

[pre-AEDPA habeas corpus petition]

The Court reviewed the California Supreme Court’s ruling on whether or not the Green instruction applies as a question of law reviewed de novo. The Court turned aside the state's argument that the claim was barred under Teague where the state failed numerous times to raise the issue and, therefore, Williams v. Calderon controls the decision in this case. Even though, the California Supreme Court has narrowed its Green decision this court continues to find Green “not mere state law nicety, for without this narrowing construction, the special circumstances would run afoul” of Furman and Gregg. Where the state court did not consider whether failure to given the instruction was harmless this court must conduct its “own harmless error analysis.” Under Brecht the missing instruction allowed the jury to convict only by finding the kidnapping was incidental to the murder invalidating the special circumstance finding and, therefore, making it not harmless error. The court further found, no ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to request a Green instruction where counsel’s defense, that Pensinger did not murder the victim, “did not comport with” the defense of independent felonious purpose.


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