Payton v. Cullen

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 09-02-2011
  • Case #: 07-99020
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Rymer for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

A death sentence for rape, murder, and two attempted murders will not be overturned when a challenge to California’s lethal injection protocol fails, claims counsel rendered ineffective assistance fail, there was no Brady violation, and the cumulative effect of any errors does not render the trial unfair.

Payton was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Pamela Montgomery, and the attempted murders of Patricia Pensinger and her ten year-old son. Payton appealed multiple times eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court which ultimately remanded the case to the district court. The district court was instructed to consider the following claims: (1) a challenge to the constitutionality of California’s lethal injection procedure; (2) whether Payton’s counsel failed to investigate and present social history evidence during the penalty phase, thereby rendering ineffective assistance; (3) whether there was a Brady violation when the prosecutor failed to disclose the status of a confidential informant; (4) whether Payton’s counsel failed to investigate or present post-traumatic stress disorder evidence during the penalty phase constituting a deprivation of effective assistance; and (5) whether cumulative error justifies overturning Payton’s sentence. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the lethal injection procedure challenge because the claim was determined premature. The Ninth Circuit found that both ineffective assistance of counsel related claims failed because there was no evidence Payton’s counsel performed deficiently and Payton failed to show prejudice. The Brady violation claim failed on its merits because the court found that disclosure would not have undermined the case’s outcome. The claim that the combined effect of the multiple errors violated due process and should result in Payton’s sentence being overturned was rejected because habeas relief is warranted only when the errors result in an unfair trial and the Ninth Circuit concluded Payton received a fair trial. AFFIRMED.

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