Monday, September 25, 2023
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Justices Reinstate Michigan Drug Conviction

WASHINGTON (CN) - Reinstating a drug conviction Monday, the Supreme Court found that the Sixth Circuit failed to give a defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.

The dispute stems from a tip Michigan police received in 2006 about two white men driving a white Audi on I-96, between Detroit and Grand Rapids, possibly carrying cocaine.

When officers spotted a matching vehicle and pulled it over for speeding, they found a quarter-pound of the white stuff in the compartment on the driver-side door.

Timothy Etherton owned and was driving the vehicle. As part of a plea deal, his passenger testified that he had nothing to do with the plot - that Etherton did not tell him about the drugs until they were on the road back to Grand Rapids.

A jury convicted Etherton of possession with intent to deliver, but Etherton claimed that his defense attorney had been constitutionally deficient by not objecting to the admission as evidence of the tip police had received.

The argument failed to sway the state habeas court, however, which cited the possible strategy in not objecting to admission of the tip. Since the tip mentioned two men, that undermined the claim by Etherton's passenger that he was not involved in the plot.

In addition, the court noted that other evidence against Etheron made it unlikely challenging the tip's admission would have changed the outcome.

Though a federal judge likewise denied Etherton relief, the Sixth Circuit reversed 2-1.

The Supreme Court summarily granted the state a writ of certiorari and reversed Monday, blasting the appellate majority for applying the incorrect standard under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

"A 'fair-minded jurist' could conclude that repetition of the tip did not establish that the uncontested facts it conveyed were submitted for their truth," the unsigned opinion states. "Such a jurist might reach that conclusion by placing weight on the fact that the truth of the facts was not disputed."

The 6-page opinion concludes that, "given AEDPA, both Etherton's appellate counsel and the state habeas court were to be afforded the benefit of the doubt."

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