Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Hill’s death penalty sentence was imposed in 1986. Hill brought a habeas petition, arguing that he may not be executed because he is “intellectually disabled,” as defined in subsequent Supreme Court cases. In 2002 the Sixth Circuit remanded for consideration of the Supreme Court’s opinions on the subject. The Sixth Circuit subsequently concluded that the Ohio courts unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s three-part standard, which requires three separate findings for a diagnosis of intellectual disability: the individual exhibits significant deficits in intellectual functioning—indicated by an IQ score “approximately two standard deviations or more below the mean,” roughly 70; the individual exhibits significant adaptive skill deficits—such as “the inability to learn basic skills and adjust behavior to changing circumstances” in specified skill sets; and the deficits arose while the individual was still a minor. Hill’s IQ ranges from 48 to 71; his disability was documented before he reached age 18. Ohio courts gave undue weight to Hill’s behavior in prison. Hill was universally considered to be intellectually disabled by teachers, administrators, and the juvenile court system. Hill consistently performed very poorly in school; there was consistent documentation that he had trouble maintaining proper hygiene despite reminders; he had trouble making friends and responding appropriately to authority figures; he was described as vulnerable to exploitation. View "Hill v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Hill’s death penalty sentence was imposed in 1986. Hill brought a habeas petition, arguing that he may not be executed because he is “intellectually disabled,” as defined in subsequent Supreme Court cases. In 2002 the Sixth Circuit remanded for consideration of the Supreme Court’s opinions on the subject. The Sixth Circuit subsequently concluded that the Ohio courts unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s three-part standard, which requires three separate findings for a diagnosis of intellectual disability: the individual exhibits significant deficits in intellectual functioning—indicated by an IQ score “approximately two standard deviations or more below the mean,” roughly 70; the individual exhibits significant adaptive skill deficits—such as “the inability to learn basic skills and adjust behavior to changing circumstances” in specified skill sets; and the deficits arose while the individual was still a minor. Hill’s IQ ranges from 48 to 71; his disability was documented before he reached age 18. Ohio courts gave undue weight to Hill’s behavior in prison. Hill was universally considered to be intellectually disabled by teachers, administrators, and the juvenile court system. Hill consistently performed very poorly in school; there was consistent documentation that he had trouble maintaining proper hygiene despite reminders; he had trouble making friends and responding appropriately to authority figures; he was described as vulnerable to exploitation. View "Hill v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Caudill and Goforth broke into White’s home and beat her to death with a hammer when she refused to give them money to buy drugs. After ransacking her home, they loaded her body in the trunk of her car, drove to an empty field, doused the car with gasoline, and set it on fire. A Kentucky jury convicted the two of murder, robbery, burglary, arson, and tampering with evidence. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Caudill’s convictions and death sentence and denied collateral relief. The district court denied Caudill’s federal habeas petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that the state courts reasonably rejected her Batson claim and that her lawyers did not provide ineffective assistance by choosing not to call additional witnesses during the penalty phase. Caudill’s claim made too much of Batson’s “sensitive” inquiry language. The Supreme Court has never directed courts to make detailed findings or to solicit the defense attorney’s views before ruling on a Batson motion. Caudill’s jury selection lasted several days. The judge was there the entire time. He observed the demeanor of the jurors and heard their answers. He listened to the prosecutor’s questions, watched the strikes, and considered the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations. The state judge could have explained more fully why those explanations convinced him that no discrimination was involved but the ruling did not violate clearly established law. View "Caudill v. Conover" on Justia Law

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Caudill and Goforth broke into White’s home and beat her to death with a hammer when she refused to give them money to buy drugs. After ransacking her home, they loaded her body in the trunk of her car, drove to an empty field, doused the car with gasoline, and set it on fire. A Kentucky jury convicted the two of murder, robbery, burglary, arson, and tampering with evidence. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Caudill’s convictions and death sentence and denied collateral relief. The district court denied Caudill’s federal habeas petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that the state courts reasonably rejected her Batson claim and that her lawyers did not provide ineffective assistance by choosing not to call additional witnesses during the penalty phase. Caudill’s claim made too much of Batson’s “sensitive” inquiry language. The Supreme Court has never directed courts to make detailed findings or to solicit the defense attorney’s views before ruling on a Batson motion. Caudill’s jury selection lasted several days. The judge was there the entire time. He observed the demeanor of the jurors and heard their answers. He listened to the prosecutor’s questions, watched the strikes, and considered the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations. The state judge could have explained more fully why those explanations convinced him that no discrimination was involved but the ruling did not violate clearly established law. View "Caudill v. Conover" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion brought by Ohio death-row inmates to enjoin their pending executions. The inmates claimed that Ohio’s midazolam-based, three-drug execution protocol presents a constitutionally unacceptable risk of pain and suffering. The court found that they had not established “likelihood of success on the merits.” The plaintiffs have “fallen well short” of proving a risk that Ohio’s execution protocol is sure or very likely to cause serious pain and needless suffering. Psychological pain or mental suffering cannot, alone, make a method of execution unconstitutional; Ohio is not required to prove midazolam’s effectiveness in rendering an inmate impervious to the pain from the two injections that follow. Nor did the inmates identify an available, feasible, and readily implemented alternative that will significantly reduce the risk of pain. View "In re: Ohio Execution Protocol Litig." on Justia Law

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Black was convicted of conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846, and escape or attempted escape from custody, 18 U.S.C. 751(a). He was sentenced to an effective term of life in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Black unsuccessfully sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Black then moved for relief under FRCP 60(b). The district court determined that his grounds for relief were second or successive claims under section 2255 and transferred them to the Sixth Circuit, which denied relief. The transferred grounds raise successive claims. Black’s arguments that the district court “applied the wrong standard” to his arguments about counsel’s conflicts of interest and ineffective assistance are "prototypical attacks" on the court's previous resolution. His claim that the Assistant U.S. Attorney “perpetrated fraud on the Court” does not question “the integrity of the federal habeas proceedings.” Black did not argue that the allegedly fraudulent conduct at trial s tainted the assessment of his habeas petition. Because Black presented these claims in a prior application, they “shall be dismissed,” 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(1). Black did not cite “a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court” or “newly discovered evidence” that would establish that “no reasonable factfinder would have found [him] guilty.” View "In re: Black" on Justia Law

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Crabbs, acquitted of voluntary manslaughter but subjected to a DNA swab before his release, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim alleging that the local police violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable searches. He died before the case could be resolved. Crabbs’s mother and the personal representative of his estate moved to substitute as a party. The district court found that Crabbs’s death extinguished his claim and dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. No federal statute or rule says anything about the survivorship of section 1983 claims, but Crabbs’s action qualifies as a “cause[] of action for . . . injuries to the person” under the Ohio survivorship statute and, therefore, outlasts his death. . View "Crabbs v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Lee pleaded guilty to three crimes in Tennessee state court, served his sentences, and was released from state custody in 1998. While serving time in federal prison for a subsequent crime, 20 years later, Lee sought permission to file a second 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition attacking his state convictions. The Sixth Circuit denied his motions. Federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction over Lee’s petition regardless of whether he can meet sections 2244(b)’s requirements. Section 2254(a), authorizing district courts to entertain state prisoners’ habeas petitions expressly limits their jurisdiction to petitions filed by persons “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.” Lee is no longer in custody, nor on supervised release, pursuant to the state judgment he seeks to attack. That Lee’s state convictions resulted in an enhanced federal sentence does not affect that analysis. View "In re: Lee" on Justia Law

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Miller was sentenced to death for a 1981 murder. A psychiatrist who examined Miller twice found him competent to stand trial and opined that Miller was not insane at the time of the murder. The court denied Miller’s request to appoint a psychiatrist to assist at trial. His sentence was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his section 2254 habeas petition, considering only the denial of state funds for an independent mental-health expert during the guilt phase of Miller’s trial and a challenge to the jury instructions. Seeking to revisit his ineffective-assistance claim, previously found to have been procedurally defaulted, under the Supreme Court’s decisions in Martinez (2012) and Trevino (2013), Miller unsuccessfully moved for relief from judgment under FRCP 60(b)(6). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Supreme Court rulings allow a prisoner to show cause to excuse an otherwise-defaulted ineffective assistance claim by presenting a substantial claim, showing that state law required him to bring that claim during an initial-review post-conviction proceeding, and showing that he received either no assistance or ineffective assistance during that initial state post-conviction proceeding. Given the uncertainty of establishing prejudice, his claim is not “unquestionably meritorious” and he has not presented a clear case of ineffective assistance that overcomes other relevant equitable factors, especially Miller’s lack of diligence in raising his Martinez claim. View "Miller v. Mays" on Justia Law

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Downs pled guilty to conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846. On August 2, 2010, the court orally pronounced a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, then the mandatory-minimum. The next day, the President signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced to five the mandatory minimum sentence for Downs's crime. On August 16, 2010, the court entered judgment in Downs’s case. In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the Act applied to defendants sentenced after August 3, 2010. Downs moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that he was not “sentenced” until the district court entered its judgment. The district court and Sixth Circuit disagreed. The law uniformly treats the date of the court’s oral pronouncement of sentence as the date of sentencing. While his co-defendants had later hearings and were sentenced under the Act, a court needs” legal grounds, not just equitable ones,” to apply the Act. Downs’s counsel was not constitutionally incompetent; the Act said nothing about having any retroactive effect. District courts are generally bound by the sentences they orally pronounce, so a motion for reconsideration would have been futile, as would a direct appeal. View "Downs v. United States" on Justia Law