9th OK’s Calling Inmate ‘Doe’ in Habeas Case

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Despite protests by California officials, it was appropriate for a federal prisoner to petition for habeas relief under the pseudonym John Doe, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     The prisoner was granted penalty-phase habeas relief based on sealed, graphic evidence of his being sexually assaulted repeatedly in prison. Doe also submitted credible evidence that he would likely be subjected to more violence if his name was revealed with the evidence of the abuse, according to the three-judge panel’s order.
     Records of the case are filed under seal.
     Doe made a “strong showing” that other inmates would learn of his past victimization if he were to recount the assaults in a published opinion containing his proper name, and that “this notoriety would create a significant risk of severe harm at the hands of other inmates, a risk to which he would be quite vulnerable,” the panel found.
     The state appealed the decision, arguing that the prisoner’s Doe status would “encumber further review” and would deny his victims’ family members their right to “reasonable notice of all public proceedings.”
     But the panel said neither of these arguments were valid, since the state can file a petition for certiorari and since there is not a law prohibiting the state from disclosing Doe’s identity to his victims’ family.
     The panel also said that disclosing Doe’s name would be of “relatively limited added value” in this case, but it added that “this deviation from our normal practice remains the rare exception rather than the rule.”
     Circuit judges Harry Pregerson, Stephen Reinhardt and Kim McLane Wardlaw made up the panel, which also denied California’s requests for rehearing and a review by the full 9th Circuit.
     Neither side could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
     Earlier this year, the same panel ordered Doe’s death sentence commuted to life without parole due to ineffective assistance in the penalty phase of his murder trial.
     Doe’s attorney admitted he was woefully unprepared for the rigors of the death penalty phase, having never represented a capital client before.

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