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Knowles v. Mirzayance
Sixth Amendment, Habeas Corpus, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
Concluding that defense counsel was ineffective in advising petitioner to withdraw
his not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted
habeas relief to petitioner without analyzing the state-court adjudication deferentially
under “clearly established” law as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) and by
supplanting the district court’s factual findings and credibility determinations with its
own, opposite factual findings. This Court vacated the Ninth Circuit decision and
remanded the case for further consideration in light of Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct.
649 (2006). On remand, the Ninth Circuit conceded that “no Supreme Court case
has specifically addressed a counsel’s failure to advance the defendant’s only
affirmative defense” but nonetheless concluded that its original decision was
“unaffected” by Musladin and subsequent § 2254(d) decisions of this Court.
The questions presented are:
1. Did the Ninth Circuit again exceed its authority under § 2254(d) by granting
habeas relief without considering whether the state-court adjudication of the claim
was “unreasonable” under “clearly established Federal law” based on its previous
conclusion that trial counsel was required to proceed with an affirmative insanity
defense because it was the only defense available and despite the absence of a
Supreme Court decision addressing the point?
2. May a federal appellate court substitute its own factual findings and credibility
determinations for those of a district court without determining whether the district
court’s findings were “clearly erroneous?”
Steven Edward Mercer
Office of the Attorney General of California
Los Angeles, CA
Charles M. Sevilla
San Diego, CA
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