Cert Petitions Granted with Decision Pending

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the following cases involving issues of interest to capital habeas litigators:

Shinn v. Ramirez, 20-1009 (cert. granted May 17, 2021)
(case below: 937 F.3d 1230 (9th Cir.))

Question presented:

     The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2), precludes a federal court from considering evidence outside the statecourt record when reviewing the merits of a claim for habeas relief if a prisoner or his attorney has failed to diligently develop the claim’s factual basis in state court, subject to only two statutory exceptions not applicable here. In the cases below, the Ninth Circuit concluded that AEDPA’s bar on evidentiary development does not apply to a federal court’s merits review of a claim when a court excuses that claim’s procedural default under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), because the default was caused by post-conviction counsel’s negligence. The question presented, which drew an eight-judge dissent from the denial of en banc rehearing in each case, is:

     Does application of the equitable rule this Court announced in Martinez v. Ryan render 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) inapplicable to a federal court’s merits review of a claim for habeas relief?

Click here to view the certiorari petition. Click here to view the amicus brief of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah, in support of petitioner. 

Brown v. Davenport, 20-826 (cert. granted April 5, 2021)
(case below:  964 F.3d 448 (6th Cir.))

Question presented:

     In Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993), the Court held that the test for determining whether a constitutional error was harmless on habeas review is whether the defendant suffered “actual prejudice.” Congress later enacted 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), which prohibits habeas relief on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits by a state court unless the adjudication “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” Although the Court has held that the Brecht test “subsumes” § 2254(d)(1)’s requirements, the Court declared in Davis v. Ayala, 576 U.S. 257, 267 (2015), that those requirements are still a “precondition” for relief and that a state-court harmlessness determination under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), still retains “significance” under the Brecht test. The question presented is:

     May a federal habeas court grant relief based solely on its conclusion that the Brecht test is satisfied, as the Sixth Circuit held, or must the court also find that the state court’s Chapman application was unreasonable under § 2254(d)(1), as the Second, Third, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have held?

Click here to view the certiorari petition.    

United States v. Tsarnaev, 20-443 (cert petition granted March 22, 2021)
(case below: 968 F.3d 24 (1st Cir.))

Questions presented:

(1) Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that respondent’s capital sentences must be vacated on the ground that the district court, during its 21-day voir dire, did not ask each prospective juror for a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard, or seen about respondent’s case. (2) Whether the district court committed reversible error at the penalty phase of respondent’s trial by excluding evidence that respondent’s older brother was allegedly involved in different crimes two years before the offenses for which respondent was convicted.

Click here to view the certiorari petition.