James v. Schriro

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 10-12-2011
  • Case #: 08-99016
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge W. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Berzon and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

The Court reviews petitioner's claims for habeas corpus relief, finding ineffective assistance of counsel to exist where a defendant's counsel fails to investigate and present clear mitigating factors at a penalty phase trial when there is a "reasonable probability" that effective presentation of those factors could have overcome the aggravating factors that instead resulted in the imposition of a death sentence.

James appeals the district court's denial of his petition for habeas corpus following a death sentence penalty he received for a 1981 murder and kidnapping. James "claims that the state failed to disclose an oral plea agreement" and "failed to correct... false testimony denying the existence of this agreement." The district court denied habeas relief on these claims because they were adjudicated on their merits in state court. The Court affirms the denial, deferring to the lower court and also determining that the state courts were correct in concluding that "the agreement, if it existed, was not material." James' petition also includes a "claim of ineffective assistance of counsel" that the state claims he procedurally defaulted. The Court finds that James did not default on this claim because there was no "firmly established and regularly followed state practice," which would be required for the "State to prevent subsequent review." The Court reviews this claim on its merits and reverses the district court's denial, finding that Jame's counsel proved ineffective in the penalty phase by failing to investigate and present clear mitigating factors that had a "reasonable probability" of overcoming the aggravating factors evaluated at the sentencing hearing. AFFIRMED in part; REVERSED and REMANDED in part.

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