Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

Styers v. Ryan, No. 12-16952 [December 30, 2015]

Styers v. Ryan

Styers first habeas petition was granted based on Arizona’s erroneous application of its “casual nexus” requirement for mitigating evidence. On remand, the Arizona Supreme Court independently reviewed his death sentence and again affirmed it. Styers now claims that the Arizona Supreme Court could not correct the error and that a death sentence could now only be imposed by a jury’s determination of the aggravating factors that rendered him eligible for the death Penalty in light of Ring v. Arizona. The Arizona Supreme Court denied his claim on the ground that his conviction was final and, therefore, he was not entitled to a Ring sentencing. The court held that because the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that the issuance of a conditional writ of habeas corpus necessarily renders non-final a conviction or sentence that was predicated on constitutional error, and the conditional writ of habeas corpus did not vacate Styers’s death sentence that the Arizona Supreme Courts decision was not contrary to federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. The court also rejected Styers’s argument that Arizona Supreme Court failed to correct its previous error because it treated Stylers’s mitigation evidence as de minimis holding that U.S. Supreme Court law did not require more.


​Washington v. Ryan, No. 05-99009 [June 17, 2015]

Washington v. Ryan

Washington’s attorney failed to timely file for an appeal of the denial of his habeas petition. The court found that it did not have jurisdiction to hear Washington’s appeal, even though a co-defendant’s appeal resulted in a new penalty-phase trial because the court properly denied his Rule 60(b) motion. Miscalculation of the filing deadline by a legal secretary in the office of the Federal Defender was mere negligence and not the kind of abandonment necessary to sever the agency relationship and allow for relief. A motion for a COA, filed within the 30 days, did not qualify under Rule 4(a)(1) because it did not indicate that it was intended to serve as a motion for an extension of time.

Update: On December 31, 2015 the court granted a rehearing en banc.


McKinney v. Ryan, No. 09-99018 [December 29, 2015]

McKinney v. Ryan

En banc decision granting the petitioner habeas petition as to the sentence of death. The Arizona Supreme Court denied his appeal on the grounds that McKinney’s PTSD did not have a “causal nexus to his crimes.” The Court held that here the “presumption that state courts know and follow the law’” is rebutted here where we know, based on its own words, that the Arizona Supreme Court did not “know and follow” federal law. [The presumption was rebutted by the Arizona Supreme Court’s consistent articulation and application of its casual nexus test, and it citation in this case to the specific page of the decision in which it articulated the test] Therefore, because the Arizona Supreme Court applied its unconstitutional “causal nexus” test in affirming the petitioner’s death sentence it decision was contrary to clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Using a harmless error standard the court found that the failure to consider the PTSD evidence had a “substantial and injurious effect” on McKinney’s sentence under Brecht.


Garcia v. Long, No. 13-57071 [December 21, 2015]

Garcia v. Long

After reading Garcia his Miranda rights the officer asked “now having [those rights] in mind, do you wish to talk to me.” Garcia replied with a simple “no.” Instead of stopping the interrogation, the officer continued to question him and at trial his incriminating statements were admitted against him. The California Supreme Court found that a “no’ response was ambiguous and equivocal in light of other statements made during the whole interview and denied Garcia’s claim. The Court found that “any reasonable jurist would have to conclude that “no” meant “no.” and found that it was both an unreasonable application of Supreme Court law and an unreasonable determination of the facts. Under the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Smith v. Illinois, which the state court failed to consider, the state court was incorrect in considering if the statement was ambiguous in light of the whole interrogation the “use of Garcia’s postrequest statements to call his initial “no” into question was ‘contrary to’ this bright-line rule.” The Court also ruled that using his prerequest statements to find his “no” ambiguous was an unreasonable determination of the facts and application of Supreme Court law. “[W]hether a request is ambiguous, ‘it simply cannot be manufactured by straining to raise a question regarding . . . a facially unambiguous invocation of the right to silence.’” Finding that the error was not harmless the judgment granting the petition for a writ of habeas corpus was affirmed.


White v. Wheeler No. 14-1372 – Supreme Court [December 14, 2015]

White v. Wheeler

The Supreme Court overrules a Sixth Circuit opinion granting a habeas petition in a death penalty case where a juror was excused over whether they could give sufficient assurance of neutrality or impartiality in considering whether the death penalty should be imposed as an unreasonable application of Witherspoon and Wainwrigth. The Court sets forth a “double deferential” standard of review in Witherspoon-Witt claim as in of ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The court must find that the excusal of the juror for cause was “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Given the ambiguousness of the juror’s answers, here, the issue should be resolved in favor of the State. The Court stated: “simple disagreement does not overcome the two layers of deference owed by a federal habeas court in this context.” [“As a final matter, this Court again advises the Court of Appeals that the provisions of AEDPA apply with full force even when reviewing a conviction and sentence imposing the death penalty.”]


Mays v. Clark No. 12-17189 [December 8, 2015]

Mays v. Clark

Mr. Mays challenged his first-degree murder conviction on the grounds that his statements were taken in violation of Miranda and Davis v. California as his invocation of his right to counsel was not ambiguous or equivocal and should have been suppressed. The Court agreed that the California courts unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent in finding that his invocation was ambiguous or equivocal. Mays’s statement that “My – my step-dad got a lawyer for me . . . I’m going to can – can you call him and have my lawyer come down here?” was not ambiguous or equivocal. The Court then held that in this case the finding by the California court that any Miranda violation was harmless, because (1) the statements would have been admissible to impeach Mays’s trial testimony even if they were obtained in violation of Miranda; and (2) the other trial evidence was so strong that Mays would have been convicted even if the statements had not been admitted, was not unreasonable under AEDPA. The Court conclude that the case was troubling, but giving deference to the state court decision they affirmed.


United States v. Gilbert No. 13-36006 [December 7, 2015]

United States v. Gilbert

Appeal from the denial of a 2255 motion as time barred. Gilbert claims that his reliance on bad advice from his counsel was good cause for failing to timely file his 2255 motion. The Court held that “a judgment that includes a sentence but leaves the amount of restitution open is sufficiently final for appellate purposes.” Therefore, the 1-year statute begins to run from the date the direct appeal time expires. The Court further held that “when a judgment imposes a sentence but leaves the amount of restitution to be determined, the one-year statute of limitations to file a § 2255 motion does not restart when the specific amount of restitution is later entered.” The Court finally held that Gilbert waived his equitable tolling claim [because he did not raise it below] and that even if he did not waive his claim it was without merit. “Assuming that Gilbert’s counsel did give erroneous advice on the filing deadline, this is not the kind of extraordinary circumstance that compels equitable tolling.


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