Vega v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 05-19-2014
  • Case #: 12-15631
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam: Circuit Judges Schroeder and Bybee, and Chief District Judge Beistline
  • Full Text Opinion

When applying Strickland v. Washington, a petitioner is required to prove (1) that counsel’s efforts fell below the standard prevailing in the community, and (2) that those failings prejudiced him; and, the petition must demonstrate that the likelihood of a different result is substantial not just conceivable.

Pedro Imperial Vega was convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter. Vega was originally charged in the federal system where his attorney learned that the victim had recanted the allegations to her mother and her priest. When the charges were dismissed in federal court, Vega obtained the representation of a public defender, Ellinwood. Ellinwood also uncovered the evidence of the victim’s recantation to her mother and her priest. The state court charges were dismissed in that case. When state charges were brought for a third time, following a new set of allegations by the victim, Vega received the representation of a third lawyer, Darby. Darby did not bring evidence at trial of the victim’s recantation to her priest, as he was unaware of this information until after the verdict. After exhausting the appeals process, Vega filed for a writ of habeas corpus. The state court held that under the two-prong test of Strickland v. Washington, there was no ineffective assistance of counsel because Darby’s representation of Vega did not fall below the standard of the industry. In addition, the court determined that there was not a “reasonable probability” that the priest’s testimony would have changed the outcome of the case. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, noting that the state court unreasonably applied Strickland. Strickland requires a petitioner to prove (1) that counsel’s efforts fell below the standard prevailing in the community, and (2) that those failings prejudiced him. The panel noted that the petition must demonstrate that the likelihood of a different result is substantial not just conceivable. Here, Darby’s theory of the case was that the facts were fabricated. The panel concluded that the priest’s testimony would have had a large effect on the verdict due to the nature of confiding in a priest, and the lack of family relationship. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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