McKinney v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 09-16-2013
  • Case #: 09-99018
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge N.R. Smith for the Court; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Court Judge Wardlaw; Circuit Judge Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

There is no constitutional right to a “standard courtroom layout,” and sentencers are required only to fully consider mitigating evidence; they are not required to give it weight.

James McKinney was sentenced to death on two counts of first-degree murder. McKinney was tried together with a co-defendant, and the parties had agreed to the use of dual juries. The district court denied McKinney’s habeas corpus petition, but granted a certificate of appealability. At issue was the use of dual juries, the requirement that McKinney wear a leg brace for security at trial, and whether mitigating evidence received proper consideration. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, McKinney questioned whether the layout of the courtroom, which led the jury to face him during the entire trial, violated his due process rights. The panel found that there was no “constitutional right to a standard American courtroom arrangement….” McKinney’s additional dual jury claims and “shackling” claim were procedurally defaulted due to his failure to fully exhaust the claims at the trial court level. Finally, McKinney’s claim that the trial court did not properly consider mitigating evidence also failed. McKinney focused on Lockett v. Ohio and Eddings v. Oklahoma (collectively “Lockett/Eddings”). These two cases call the sentencer to, at the very least, consider mitigating evidence; the sentencer is not required to give weight to any presented mitigating evidence. Finally, in terms of discretion, the panel stated that upholding trial courts’ decisions concerning the weight to apply to mitigating evidence is preferred over appellate courts’ desire to apply their own weight. AFFIRMED.

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