SCOTUS Takes 9th Circuit to Task for Procedural Bar

     WASHINGTON (CN) — The Ninth Circuit earned a Supreme Court rebuke Tuesday for advancing the appeal of a California killer, despite a longstanding procedural bar.
     Donna Kay Lee had filed for federal habeas relief while serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for murders she committed with her boyfriend at the time, Paul Carasi, killing his mother and his ex-girlfriend.
     Lee’s federal petition raised mostly new claims that she had failed to raise in her state appeals, however, so the District Court temporarily stayed federal proceedings to let Lee to pursue her new claims in a state habeas petition.
     California requires criminal defendants to raise available claims on direct appeal, as do all states, but its so-called Dixon bar says that a defendant procedurally defaults a claim raised for the first time on state collateral review if he could have raised it earlier on direct appeal.
     Citing Dixon, the California Supreme Court denied Lee’s petition in a summary order.
     After a federal judge then dismissed Lee’s new claims as procedurally defaulted, she challenged the Dixon bar’s adequacy.
     Her appeal gained traction with the Ninth Circuit, which directed the warden Deborah Johnson to submit evidence contradicting Lee’s claim that the California courts inconsistently applied the Dixon bar.
     A federal judge upheld the Dixon bar as adequate on remand, having considered a study the warden submitted that analyzed more than 4,700 summary habeas denials during a nearly two-year period around the time of Lee’s procedural default.
     The study showed that the California Supreme Court cited Dixon in approximately 12 percent of all denials from August 1998 to June 2000, more than 500 times.
     Warden Johnson appealed to the Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit reversed again, prompting heated criticism today from the justices.
     “Because California’s procedural bar is longstanding, oft-cited, and shared by habeas courts across the nation, this court now summarily reverses the Ninth Circuit’s judgment,” the ruling states.
     No justice signed today’s opinion, which blasts the Ninth Circuit for “profoundly misapprehend[ing] what makes a state procedural bar ‘adequate.'”
     “Simplicity does not imply that missing citations reflect state-court inconsistency,” the ruling states, calling the “Ninth Circuit’s contrary reasoning … unpersuasive and inconsistent with this court’s precedents.”

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