Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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Petitioner, convicted of murdering two teenage boys with intent to inflict torture, appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief. Petitioner committed the murders when he was 15 years old. Petitioner contends his counsel performed deficiently by failing to challenge the prosecution’s statements as either improper comments on petitioner's decision not to testify, in violation of Griffin v. California, or improper shifting of the burden of proof to the defense. The court concluded that, because there was no actual prosecutorial error, defense counsel’s decision to rebut the prosecution’s comments directly rather than object at trial or on appeal was adequate, and this strategy did not undermine the reliability of petitioner’s conviction. Petitioner also contends that his sentence violates the Eighth Amendment because it is the "functional equivalent" of a mandatory life-without-parole sentence, and he was a juvenile offender. The court concluded that there is a reasonable argument petitioner’s sentence is constitutional because it actually allows for the possibility of parole. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Demirdjian v. Gipson" on Justia Law

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Defendant, 16 years old at the time of the offenses, was convicted of felony murder and related charges resulting in a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. Miller v. Alabama subsequently held unconstitutional for juvenile offenders mandatory terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The district court refused to appoint a neuropsychological expert under 18 U.S.C. 3006A(e) on resentencing. The court concluded that, under these circumstances, a reasonably competent attorney would have found the services of the requested expert necessary to provide adequate representation at defendant’s resentencing. By precluding defendant from developing this potential mitigating evidence, the district court abused its discretion. The court also concluded that a reasonable attorney would have considered an up-to-date neuropsychological evaluation necessary had defendant been a nonindigent defendant. And because a current evaluation could have provided mitigating evidence in support of a lesser sentence, defendant was sufficiently prejudiced by the failure to appoint a psychological expert before resentencing. Therefore, the court vacated defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court further concluded that defendant has not shown the district court erred by calculating the Guidelines’ recommended base offense level as 43; defendant has not demonstrated that the district court committed prejudicial error when it considered the PSR’s calculation of criminal history points attributed to his juvenile offenses; and, even assuming that defendant’s objection to the district court’s calculation of his criminal history category based on his juvenile offenses was forfeited, as opposed to waived, and assuming the district court committed plain error by attributing criminal history points to three of his juvenile offenses, defendant has not shown prejudice as a result of the error. View "United States v. Pete" on Justia Law