Willamette Law Online

United States Supreme Court Certiorari Granted


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Jennings v. Stephens

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: March 24, 2014
Case #: 13-7211
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 537 Fed. Appx. 326 (2013)
Full Text Opinion: https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/12/12-70018.0.wpd.pdf

Habeas Corpus: Whether a habeas petitioner who prevails on an ineffective assistance of counsel of claim can raise assertions of deficient performance that were rejected by the trial court against the state's appeal if the petitioner has not filed a separate notice of appeal and certificate of appealability.

Petitioner filed a federal habeas petition, raising an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against his conviction for murder and death sentence and pointing to three separate allegations of deficient performance during the penalty phase of his trial. The district court granted relief based on two of the allegations of deficient performance, but the court denied relief based the third allegation: that Petitioner’s counsel had improperly conceded defeat during his closing argument.

Respondent appealed the decision of the district court.  On appeal, Petitioner again raised the argument that counsel had been ineffective during his closing argument. The Fifth Circuit reversed the decision of the trial court and held that Petitioner was procedurally barred from raising the “closing argument” argument because he did not timely file his own notice of appeal and certificate of appealability (COA) relating to that issue.

The Court granted certiorari limited to the issue of whether Petitioner was procedurally barred from arguing that counsel was deficient during his closing argument. On review, Petitioner asks the Court to resolve a split between the circuits, and argues that where a habeas petitioner prevails on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim and the state appeals, the petitioner can raise arguments concerning allegations of deficient assistance that the trial court rejected without filing a separate notice of appeal and COA because the appellate court has already taken jurisdiction over the entire claim as a result of the state’s appeal.