Dickens v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 08-03-2012
  • Case #: 08-99017
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge N. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judge Rawlinson; Dissent by Circuit Judge Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

A claim under Martinez v. Ryan for ineffective assistance of post-conviction relief counsel may not need to be exhausted as previously suggested, because the claim is an equitable claim and not a constitutional claim.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed Gregory Dickens’s conviction of two counts of felony murder, two counts of armed robbery, and his death sentence. Dickens filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which the district court denied. Reviewing de novo, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Arizona Supreme Court’s application of Supreme Court cases Enmund v. Florida and Tison v. Arizona to Dickens’s case, and concluded that the court did not base its decision on an erroneous determination of the facts. The Court determined that Dickens failed to show how the Arizona Supreme Court’s application of federal law was objectively unreasonable and that his contribution to the murders was insufficient to warrant the death penalty. Dickens’s argument that Enmund and Tison require a defendant’s immediate physical presence at the murder scene to qualify for the death penalty is unwarranted, because neither case establishes “presence” at a murder scene as a death penalty prerequisite. Even if they did, the Arizona Supreme Court was warranted in determining that Dickens was a major participant in the murders. Although the Court agreed that Dickens defaulted on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim by failing to fairly present the claim to the Arizona courts, the Court vacated and remanded for the district court to reassess whether Dickens had established cause and prejudice under Martinez v. Ryan, where the Supreme Court found the claim was not necessarily barred when it had not been presented to the state courts. Because Martinez did not create a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, the claim is an equitable claim and not a constitutional claim. Therefore, the claim may not need to be exhausted as previously suggested. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED.

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