Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

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.

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