Blake v. Baker

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 03-14-2014
  • Case #: 12-15522
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tashima for the Court; Circuit Judges W. Fletcher and Nguyen
  • Full Text Opinion

A habeas petitioner's post-conviction ineffective assistance of counsel claim constitutes good cause for failure to exhaust a claim if it is reasonably supported by sufficient evidence; the district court abuses its discretion by denying a motion to stay and hold in abeyance a mixed petition if: (1) petitioner shows good cause for failure to exhaust, (2) the unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and (3) there is no indication that petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics.

Alfonso Manuel Blake filed a 28 U.S.C. §2254 petition in district court raising initial, unexhausted, ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims ("IAC") The petition was denied because the IAC claims were not raised in state court and subject to dismissal under Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509 (1982), as a mixed petition. Petitioner filed a motion to stay under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005) and hold in abeyance—so he could exhaust IAC claims in state court—asserting post-conviction counsel's ineffective assistance constituted good cause for failure to exhaust. The court denied the motion, holding post-conviction counsel Strickland-type claims cannot constitute good cause because the excuse could be raised in virtually every case, running contrary to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 goals of encouraging finality and streamlining habeas petitions.

The panel ordered the district court to grant the motion and allow petitioner to exhaust his IAC claims, concluding it is an abuse of discretion to deny a stay and dismiss a mixed petition if: (1) petitioner showed good cause for failure to exhaust, (2) the unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and (3) there is no indication that petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Further, good cause under Rhines does not require a showing of extraordinary circumstances and is not measured by the possible frequency a claim could be raised; but rather, is an equitable component to ensure a stay is available to petitioners with a legitimate reason for failing to exhaust claims in state court, supported by sufficient evidence to justify that failure. Petitioner made a sufficient showing that post-conviction counsel's performance was defective under the Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984) and IAC was a reasonable excuse constituting good cause for a Rhines stay. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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