Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

Munoz Santos v. Thomas, No. 12-56506 [July 28, 2016]

Munoz Santos v. Thomas

The en banc Court heard this appeal from the district court’s denial of habeas relief from a magistrate’s judge’s order certifying Munoz’s extradition to Mexico on charges of kidnapping. The extradition court refused to allow Munoz to present evidence “that incriminating statements made against him by his co-conspirators were obtained by torture, and therefore could not support the probable cause required to extradite,” finding that “the evidence of coercion was not admissible in the extradition hearing, because the allegations were contained in statements in which the witnesses had recanted their previous incriminating statement.” The Court reversed, holding “that evidence of coercion is explanatory, and may be considered by the extradition court, even if the evidence includes a recantation. Remanded to the district court to issue the writ of habeas corpus unless the extradition court certifies Munoz’s extraditability after proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Nettles v. Grounds, No. 12-16935 [July 26, 2016]

Nettles v. Grounds

The en banc court considered the district court’s dismissal of Nettles habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction. Nettle’s petition challenged a disciplinary violation on constitutional grounds and claimed that the failure to expunge this violation from his record could affect his eligibility for parole. The Court held, “that because Nettle’s claim does not fall within the ‘core of habeas corpus,’ it must be brought, if at all, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court ruled that “if a state prisoner’s claim does not lie at ‘the core of habeas corpus,’ it may not be brought in habeas corpus but must be brought, ‘if at all,’ under § 1983.” Here, since the parole board could “deny parole to Nettles even if he succeeded in expunging the 2008 rules violation report” his claim does not fall within the core of habeas corpus,” therefore, he must instead bring this claim under § 1983. The Court held “that a district court may construe a petition for habeas corpus to plead a cause of action under § 1983 after notifying and obtained informed consent from the prisoner.” It therefore, remanded the case to the district


Curiel v. Miller, No. 11-56949 [July 25, 2016]

The en banc court reversed the three judge panel and reversed the district court’s judgment dismissing as untimely California state prisoner Curiel’s federal habeas corpus petition. To the State’s motion to dismiss Curiel’s habeas petition as untimely, he argued that 1 year statute of limitations should be statutorily tolled for the period during which his state habeas petitions were pending, and also that he was entitled to equitable tolling due to trial counsel’s alleged delay in returning his client file. Here, the California Supreme Court’s denial of Curiel’s state petition only cited to failure to properly plead his claims. The court held that “the California Supreme Court’s denial of Curiel’s third habeas petition with reference to Swain and Duvall – and not a California case dealing with untimeliness – means that the California Supreme Court rejected Curiel’s petition as insufficiently pleaded. And a state petition that was timely filed but inadequately pleaded under California law is considered ‘properly filed’ and entitles a federal petitioner to statutory tolling under § 2244(d)(2).” Here, the California Supreme Court’s order finding his petition timely, “depriving the contrary rulings by the Superior Court and Court of Appeal of all force and effect.” They then concluded that Curiel’s petition was timely filed, without reaching the question of equitable tolling.


Jones v. Harrington, No. 13-56360 [July 22, 2016]

Jones v. Harrington

After hours of questioning Jones finally told officers “I don’t want to talk no more” but the officer continued on eventually obtain incriminating statements. The California Court of Appeal held that Jones did not unambiguously invoke his right to remain silent and no suppression was warranted, mainly because Jones continued talking. The Court found this was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court case law and was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts finding that “[o]nce Jones said he wished to remain silent, even on question was one question too many.” Because the statements were pivotal in the trial the err was not harmless and they order the district court to grant the writ.


Ayala v. Chappell, No. 13-99005 [July 20, 2016]

Ayala v. Chappell

Ayala raised claims that his trial was fundamentally unfair because his lawyer unreasonably failed to impeach the prosecution’s key witnesses with evidence that would have undermined their credibility, that his Brady rights were violated by concealing evidence, that the police threatened and intimidated witnesses, and that the trial court committed several constitutional errors. The Court concluded that the California Supreme Court’s rulings were not contrary to clearly established federal law and denied his petition. The Court first address whether his claims were procedurally barred under the independent and adequate state procedural rule as the State court found them untimely. The court applied its rule that “where claims are ‘clearly not meritorious,’ ‘appeals courts are empowered to, and in some case should reach the merits of habeas petitions . . . despite an asserted procedural bar” and proceeded to the merits. The states finding that counsel’s plan to insulate the jury from evidence Ayala was a gang member was a valid trial plan to not call certain witnesses. The Court held that the “California Supreme Court reasonably deferred to defense counsel’s choices regarding exclusion of gang affiliation evidence find that there is no doubt “that counsel’s effort to avoid mention of the Mexican Mafia or EME at trial was a carefully considered, deliberately undertaken strategy, the likes of which we cannot second-guess on federal habeas review.” The main Brady claim was based on the failure to disclose impeachment evidence about it key witness. The Court held this claim unexhausted as it was not raised in State court and no evidence was presented that any evidence was actually withheld. His other claims failed to support that the government concealed any information from the defense. The court found that the evidence failed to establish that witness intimidation occurred. Finally the Court found no error by the trial court in refusal to strike a jury for cause: finding the juror was not an automatic death penalty voter; in excluding the testimony of a deceased witness’s statements based on a lack of indicia of reliability under California’s residual hearsay rule; that the prosecution did not commit misconduct in its closing arguments by improperly injecting gang issues into trial during its argument by referring to “those people who associated with the defendant” as it did not so infect the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process; that the trial court did not err in allowing penalty phase evidence that the petition murder a fellow inmate ten years before trial even though he was not previously charged with the crime because of the failure to show prejudice; and finally reject a cumulative error argument and an actual innocence claim.


Mann v. Ryan, No. 09-99017 [July 15, 2016]

Mann v. Ryan

After hearing the case en banc the Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Mann’s petition finding no ineffective assistance at the guilt-phase or at sentencing. The Court was presented with the question: When, in the absence of clarity, can this court conclude that a state court has applied the wrong standard to review a Strickland claim raised in a petition for post-conviction relief? The Court held that it must approach this question with the deference AEDPA requires and grant habeas relief only if no fairminded jurist could conclude that the adjudication was consistent with clearly established Supreme Court precedent and that here fairminded jurist could conclude that the state court’s review of Mann’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel comported with Strickland. Therefore, applying AEDPA deference to his claims the Court found the denial of his claim was not contrary to, or and unreasonable application of, federal law.


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