Doe v. Ayers

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 03-31-2015
  • Case #: 15-99006
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

Counsel must investigate if counsel knows, or should know, that particular evidence might yield more mitigating evidence with further investigation.

In 1984, a jury convicted John Doe of murder. The district court denied his petition for habeas corpus and motion for relief from judgment based on ineffective assistance of counsel. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the district court’s denials. The panel expounded that capital trial cases in California consist of two possible phases. First, in the guilt phase, a jury decides whether the defendant is guilty of murder and whether special circumstances apply. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, and at least one special circumstance applicable, then the penalty phase occurs. Secondly, during the penalty phase, the jury determines, through aggravating and mitigating evidence, whether the death penalty is appropriate. In considering this approach, the panel held that Doe received effective assistance of counsel during the guilt phase because the trial counsel’s conduct was not deficient and any errors were harmless. Second, the panel found that the admission of prior crimes was harmless because “references [to it in transcripts] were extremely brief,” and when the jurors were questioned about their review of the transcripts, none remembered these references. However, the panel ruled that Doe received ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase because trial counsel did not continue necessary investigation and there is a substantial probability that a different result would have occurred if counsel’s performance were effective. Full consideration of the mitigating defenses is essential to preparing for the penalty phase and is necessary for the jury to give a well-reasoned response. Thus, the panel held that prejudice resulting from ineffective assistance must be considered collectively. AFFIRMED in Part, REVERSED in Part, REMANDED.

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