Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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En Banc Ninth Circuit Clarifies Precedent

(CN) - The en banc Ninth Circuit clarified that a 1984 Supreme Court decision governs ineffective assistance of counsel claims in all cases, not just capital ones.

Sophia Daire was convicted of first-degree burglary and sentenced to 40 years in prison due to previous burglary convictions.

She later claimed in a habeas petition that her attorney provided ineffective assistance at sentencing by not presenting evidence about her mental illness during trial. Her counsel did discuss other struggles and unfortunate events in Daire's life, according to court records.

A Ninth Circuit panel found that Daire was not prejudiced as a result of her attorney's decision not to mention her mental illness.

It found that the law does not allow the court to second-guess an attorney's trial strategy unless it was objectively unreasonable, a standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 decision in Strickland v. Washington.

The panel applied a Strickland analysis even though Ninth Circuit precedent from 2005 and 2006 states that there is not "clearly established" federal law on the question of whether Strickland governs ineffective assistance claims in noncapital sentencing proceedings.

The San Francisco-based appeals court took up the matter en banc to reconsider this precedent.

"The Supreme Court has clearly established that Strickland governs claims for ineffective assistance of counsel in noncapital sentencing proceedings," the unsigned five-page opinion states. "Therefore, we overrule our contrary decisions on which the district court relied."

Since the lower court already applied Strickland to Daire's claims, "The panel, at its election, may reinstate its prior opinion or issue an amended opinion," the en banc court said.

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