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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Christmas Eve Victory for Habeas Petitioners

(CN) - When federal courts are reviewing criminal habeas cases, they can consider the entire state-court record, including any evidence not presented to a state appellate court, the en banc Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday.

The unanimous 23-page decision comes in the bid for relief by convicted California muderers Robert McDaniels and Keelon Jenkins.

A superior court jury convicted McDaniels and Jenkins in the same trial of killing an armored-car guard during an attempted robbery two decades ago.

Jenkins, then 21, was found to have fired the fatal shots and received sentence of life in prison without parole.

McDaniels, then 20, was sentenced to 25 years to life.

After exhausting their state appellate options, the men claimed in a federal habeas that racial bias motivated the prosecution's peremptory strikes against seven of the 10 prospective black jurors.

A U.S. District Court judge denied the pair relief as well, however, setting the stage for the men's first appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

In 2014, a three-judge panel found it improper that the petitioners sought to present juror questionnaires and the transcript of the first day of voir dire.

Though the state trial court had considered these materials, they were not presented to the California Court of Appeal.

The Ninth Circuit agreed to rehear the case en banc, finding that the original panel's ruling did not harmonize with 2013 precedent from Jamerson v. Runnels.

In Jamerson, the Ninth Circuit held, as explained Thursday, "that a federal habeas court may consider evidence that was before the state trial court, whether or not that evidence was subsequently presented to a state appellate court."

On this basis, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case 11-0 on Thursday to last year's three-judge panel.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not foreclose such review with its finding that federal courts must accept the state court's findings of fact in evaluating a state prisoner's federal habeas corpus petition, and cannot consider evidence introduced in an evidentiary hearing before a federal court, the bench said.

While Supreme Court precedent precludes review of evidence that was never revealed in any state court proceeding, it "does not limit our ability to consider a state-trial-court record that existed at the time a state-appellate-court decision was made," Judge Michelle Friedland wrote for the court.

Friedland added that it is not for the court to say right now "whether the failure to conduct a comparative juror analysis resulted in an unreasonable determination of the facts in this case, as we find it appropriate to leave this determination to be made by the original three-judge panel in the first instance."

The bench did, however, dispose of McDaniels and Jenkins' argument that the state appellate court should have augmented the appellate record on its own to conduct a comparative-juror analysis based on the entire voir dire record.

"We reject this argument because no clearly established Supreme Court precedent at the time of the California Court of Appeal's decision in 2003 required state courts to conduct a comprehensive, sua sponte comparative juror analysis," Friedland said.

McDaniels and Jenkins failed to have the court determine to what extent the U.S. Supreme Court established that comparative-juror analyses must be considered when reviewing possible race bias during jury selection in the decision in Miller-El v. Dretke.

Judges Richard Tallman and Consuelo Callahan joined a concurring opinion by Judge Sandra Ikuta that says the Miller-El decision could not and did not establish a new procedural rule that a state court must use such an analysis.

"The majority creates needless confusion by suggesting that there might be an open question" as to whether the decision established a rule requiring consideration of a comparative juror analysis, Ikuta said.

"There is no such open question, because it is clear that Miller-El II established no such rule," Ikuta added.

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