Lopez v. Smith

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: October 6, 2014
  • Case #: 13-946
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 28 U.S.C. §2254(d), a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner only if the state court’s decision was contrary to established Federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court.

Respondent was charged for the murder of his wife. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence that respondent was the principal, but then later requested an aiding-and-abetting instruction. The trial court agreed to give such an instruction and respondent was convicted of first-degree murder.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting respondent’s assertion that he had inadequate notice of the possibility of conviction on an aiding-and-abetting theory. The California Supreme Court denied respondent’s petition for review.

Respondent then filed for habeas relief in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Respondent was granted habeas relief and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that respondent’s right to notice had been violated because the prosecution tried respondent’s case solely on the theory that respondent was the principal actor.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Ninth Circuit failed to apply the deferential standard of review under 28 U.S.C. §2254(d). Specifically, the Court sought to determine whether the Ninth Circuit erred when it granted respondent’s petition for habeas relief on the ground that respondent had a right to know which theory the government would base its prosecution – a right recognized by the Ninth Circuit’s precedent but not established by the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that the Ninth Circuit erred, highlighting that the Ninth Circuit had cited its own precedent. The Court therefore concluded that the Ninth Circuit lacked basis to reject the state court’s assessment that respondent had sufficient notice of the possibility of conviction on an aiding-and-abetting theory.

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