Davis v. Ayala

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: March 3, 2015
  • Case #: 13-1428
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., and THOMAS, J., filed concurring opinions. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Not allowing a criminal defendant’s counsel to be present at an ex parte hearing explaining why potential jurors were excluded is a harmless error.

Respondent was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Respondent appealed his conviction on the ground that during the jury selection process the prosecutor's peremptory challenges were impermissibly based on race and his Constitutional rights were violated when the trial judge allowed the prosecution to explain the reasoning for striking potential jurors in ex parte hearings without Respondent’s counsel present. On appeal, the California Supreme Court found the trial court had erred but the error was harmless. The Court of Appeals granted Petitioner habeas relief, holding that the ex parte proceedings violated the Defendant's constitutional rights and that the error was not harmless.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision and held any error resulting from trial proceedings that did not include defense counsel being present while the prosecutor explained why jurors were excluded was harmless. Respondent did not establish that he was actually prejudiced by the error and only established mere speculation of prejudice, which the Court stated was not enough. Respondent did not establish his counsel would have convinced the judge that the reasoning for the jury strikes was pre-textual. In seeking relief a defendant must meet the Brecht test. The Court cannot grant habeas relief unless the state court's rejection of his claim “(1) was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, or; (2) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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