Kernan v. Hinojosa

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: May 16, 2016
  • Case #: Docket Number: No. 15–833
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam; Sotomayor J. filed an opinion dissenting in which Ginsburg J. joined
  • Full Text Opinion

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act presumes that a state decision rejecting a claim is a ruling on the merits that can be rebutted by looking through summary denials by state appellate courts to an earlier state ruling.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires state prisoners seeking federal habeas relief to first “exhaust the remedies available in the court of the State.” If the state court decides on the merits, AEDPA requires deferential, rather than de novo review, “prohibiting federal courts from granting habeas relief unless the state-court decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal Law’ or ‘was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.’” Respondent filed a state habeas petition, arguing that applying the amended state law to him violated the Federal Constitution’s prohibition of ex post facto laws. The court denied the petition for lack of venue. After the state court of appeals affirmed, Respondent then sought a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of California, which denied relief without explanation. Respondent filed a petition for federal habeas relief. The district court denied the ex post facto claim under AEDPA’s deferential review. The Ninth Circuit reversed granting respondent habeas relief, finding that the original state superior courts dismissal for improper venue was not on the merits, and not bound by AEDPA. The Supreme Court reversed, relying on Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797 (1991), that when “the last reasoned opinion on the claim explicitly imposes a procedural default. . . that a later decision rejecting the claim did not silently disregard that bar and consider the merits.” Id. The Court held that the California Supreme Court’s decision was not based on the same grounds as trial court, and therefore was on the merits. Accordingly the Ninth Circuit should have reviewed the ex post facto claim through the AEDPA’s deferential lens.

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