Monday, March 17, 2014

Robert Murray v. Schriro, No. 08-99008 (Bybee with Rawlinson and Ikuta)

[Ed. note -- This is an Arizona FPD case.] --- The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of an Arizona death-row prisoner's federal habeas petition. 

The court rejected the petitioner's Batson claim.  Clearly established federal law did not require the trial court to conduct a comparative juror analysis when assessing the prosecutor's proffered reason for exercising a peremptory strike.  Rather, comparative juror analysis is "an important means for federal courts to review a trial court's ruling in a Batson challenge."  See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d)(2); Boyd v. Newland, 467 F.3d 1139, 1149 (9th Cir. 2006).  Moreover, the state supreme court did not issue a reasoned decision on the petitioner's claim, because it failed to explain its determination that "there was no purposeful discrimination by the prosecutor."  Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit looked through the state supreme court's decision to the trial court's ruling for purposes of AEDPA deference.  The trial court accepted the prosecutor's reasons here -- that one prospective juror's mother had been involved in a drug-trafficking case, and that the other prospective juror was "excessively nice" to the point of being "indecisive."  Under AEDPA deference, the Ninth Circuit upheld these findings as race-neutral and not pre-textual. 

Based on the record before the state courts, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the petitioner's penalty-phase ineffective-assistance claim.  "No attorney can present a complete picture of his client's life" to a capital sentencing jury, the court observed.  Accordingly, the petitioner could not "point to a single, material piece of evidence that would have been determinative at sentencing" in light of the evidence presented from family members about the petitioner's life. 

Finally, the district court correctly concluded that amending the habeas petition to include claims presented during a second round of state post-conviction proceedings would be futile and unduly prejudicial to the state.  Many of the claims were procedurally defaulted, and amending a habeas petition is generally futile if the proposed claims cannot be reviewed on the merits.

The opinion is here:


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