Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

Cummings v. Martel, No. 11-99011 [August 11, 2015]

Cummings v. Martel

Cummings raised three issues: 1) that the admission of his inculpatory statement overheard by a bailiff at trial violated his due process rights; 2) that his counsel was ineffective in his sentencing proceeding; and 3) an allegation of Batson error. The due process error in having the bailiff testify is analyzed using two factors: 1) was the bailiff “a ‘key witness[]’ or testified to some ‘uncontroverted or merely formal aspect of the case;’” and 2) an examination of the relationship between bailiff and jury to determine “whether the official had a ‘continuous and intimate’ relationship that ‘foster[ed] the jurors’ confidence’ in his testimony.” The Court weighed the factors finding, in disagreement with the California Supreme court that he was a key witness, but rejected the claim on the second factor as the bailiff had relative little contact with the jurors. The court held its deference on the second factor was not precluded by the finding on factor one that it was not entitled to deference, as they were two separate questions. Only the third step of the Batson analysis was disputed, i.e. purposeful discrimination. Using a comparative analysis to divine the prosecutor’s intent the court denied the claim. The court also denied the ineffective assistance of counsel claim finding that the California Court’s conclusion that Cummings was not prejudiced by his lawyers’ presentation of mitigation evidence at the penal phase was reasonable. [Justice Thomas would have granted the due process claim]

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