Jones v. Taylor

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 08-19-2014
  • Case #: 13-36202
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tashima for the Court; Circuit Judges Alarcon and Ikuta
  • Full Text Opinion

Recantation testimony is generally unreliable and unpersuasive when determining the merits habeas corpus petition based on a freestanding claim of factual innocence.

The panel has reversed the district court’s judgment granting a habeas corpus petition based on a freestanding claim of actual innocence in a case where Scott Jones (“Jones”) was convicted of unlawful sexual penetration of his sister, S.J. Jones. The conviction was based primarily on testimony from S.J., that she was penetrated by her brother as well as testimony from her father Ken Jones, and sister, Jennifer Pond, who testified that Jones admitted to penetrating S.J. After the recantations of all three witnesses, Jones brought a habeas corpus petition based on a freestanding claim of factual innocence. The panel chose to review de novo the district court’s decision that Jones is actually innocent, based on a holistic judgment about all the evidence and its likely effect on reasonable jurors applying the reasonable doubt standard. The panel did not decide whether a freestanding actual innocence claim is cognizable in a federal habeas corpus proceeding in the non-capital context, because, even assuming that such is cognizable the panel concluded that Jones has not made a sufficient showing to merit relief. The panel determined that, at a minimum, the petitioner must go beyond demonstrating doubt about his guilt, and must affirmatively prove he is probably innocent. Further, a petitioner must demonstrate that in light of new evidence it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jones has not met this high standard. Generally recantation testimony is properly viewed with great suspicion, because it is difficult to confirm or refute. The panel was unpersuaded that every reasonable juror would credit the recantations as the district court did. The panel reasoned that evidence that merely undercuts trial testimony or casts doubt on the petitioner’s guilt, but does not affirmatively prove innocence and is insufficient to merit relief on a freestanding claim of actual innocence. Accordingly the panel held that Jones has not made the extraordinarily high and truly persuasive showing required for habeas relief on a freestanding claim of actual innocence. REVERSED

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