Pending Cert Petitions of Interest

The following pending petitions involve issues of interest to capital habeas litigators:

Stirling v. Williams, 18-1495 (cert. petition filed May 28, 2019)
(case below: 914 F.3d 302 (4th Cir.)

Question Presented:

     During the sentencing phase of this capital case, respondent’s experienced defense team argued that respondent suffered from a one-time emotional deterioration of mental state that resulted in the murder of a former girlfriend.  Aided by several experts, they introduced evidence of respondent’s major depressive episode and obsessive compulsive disorder, along with evidence of his chaotic background, broken home, limited intelligence, and prison adaptability. They chose not to introduce evidence they possessed that respondent had brain damage.  On post-conviction review, the state court concluded that counsel was not ineffective for not additionally pursuing potential fetal alcohol syndrome mitigation evidence.  It found that neither prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), was met. A federal district court granted habeas corpus relief, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. On the issue of prejudice, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that evidence of brain damage “can be a double-edged sword, given that it may also indicate future dangerousness to the jury.”  For that reason, the court further acknowledged that respondent’s counsel may not wish to introduce evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome in future proceedings. Yet the Fourth Circuit nonetheless held that respondent was prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to introduce fetal alcohol syndrome evidence, and the state court was objectively unreasonable in not reaching that conclusion.  The question presented is:

     Is a state court objectively unreasonable, for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), when it concludes that a capital defendant was not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to introduce evidence that a federal habeas court concludes is a “double-edged sword” that might “indicate future dangerousness” and which counsel may well choose not to introduce in any further proceedings.

Click here to view the certiorari petition.  The case has been distributed for the October 1, 2019 conference.

Schmidt v. Foster, 18-8977 (cert. petition filed April 19, 2019)
(case below: 911 F.3d 469 (7th Cir.) (en banc))

Questions Presented:

(1) Whether this Court should summarily reverse or, at a minimum, grant certiorari, vacate, and remand in light of Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 1188 (2018), where the Seventh Circuit expressly declined to decide whether the state court’s actual reason for denying relief was an “unreasonable application of clearly established federal law” under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), and instead applied deference to a hypothetical reason that the state court had not adopted. (2) Whether factual anomalies surrounding a violation of clearly established federal law render federal habeas relief unavailable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) because no prior Supreme Court decision has addressed the same bizarre facts.

Click here to view the certiorari petition.  The case has been distributed for the October 1, 2019 conference.

Beatty v. Davis, 18-8429 (cert. petition filed March 11, 2019)
(case below: ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir.))

Questions Presented:

 (1) Whether the Court should grant certiorari to resolve a conflict among the federal courts of appeals as to whether petitioners may ever prevail on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) motion premised, in part, on Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012).  (2) Whether the Court should grant certiorari to bring the Fifth Circuit’s rigid approach to assessing timeliness under Rule 60(c)(1) into line with other courts of appeals. (3) Whether the Court should grant certiorari and provide guidance to the courts of appeals regarding the scope of the 18 U.S.C. § 3599 right to adequate representation post-Martinez and Trevino, and in particular whether federal habeas petitioners are entitled to conflict-free counsel to investigate all available claims and respond to the State’s procedural arguments.  

Click here to view the certiorari petition.  The case has been distributed for the October 1, 2019 conference.  

Hernandez v. Davis, 18-8419 (cert. petition filed February 26, 2019)
(case below: ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir.))

Question Presented:

Whether, in the face of a reasoned state court decision, a federal habeas court applies the unreasonableness test of 28 USC §2254(d)(1) to the specific reasons given by the state court or to other reasons that could have supported the ultimate conclusion of the state court? 

Click here to view the certiorari petition.  The case has been distributed for the October 1, 2019 conference.

Schexnayder v. Vannoy, 18-8341 (cert. petition filed February 18, 2019)
(case below: unpublished order (5th Cir.))

Question Presented:

Could jurists of reason debate whether to apply AEDPA deference to a state court decision arising out of a secret, thirteen-year-long policy to deny all pro se prisoner writ applications without judicial review? 

Click here to view the certiorari petition.  Click here to view the amicus brief in support of Schexnayder filed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  The case has been distributed for the October 1, 2019 conference.