Stokley v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 09-26-2011
  • Case #: 09-99004
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Circuit Judges Paez and Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, where a criminal defendant has failed to make a colorable claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, the defendant is not entitled to a new evidentiary hearing in federal court regardless of whether the defendant has exhausted state court appeals.

Stokley was sentenced to death for murdering two girls. At sentencing, the trial court held that aggravating factors outweighed mitigating factors. The State Supreme Court affirmed, noting that (1) Stokley’s above average intelligence offset his mental incapacities and (2) he did not act impulsively in committing the crime. Stokley appealed in federal district court challenging his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court held that Stokley’s challenge failed because he had not “presented a colorable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel” since his attorney had properly used experts to evaluate Stokley’s mental status. The Ninth Circuit considered whether the application of Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. 1388 (2011), would affect the result reached by the lower court. First, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that if Pinholster applied, then it denied Stokley a new evidentiary hearing; the only relief he sought. Second, the Court reasoned that if Pinholster did not apply, then even considering the new evidence about Stokley’s mental state, Stokley did not present a colorable claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, as the experts consulted did not recommend to counsel the further testing Stokley sought to enter. The Ninth Circuit held that “[r]egardless of whether Pinholster bars consideration of Stokley’s new evidence, Stokley is not entitled to habeas relief” because “Stokley has failed to present a colorable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.” AFFIRMED.

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