Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Stewart v. Wolfenbarger, No. 04-2419 (6th Cir. 11/9/2006)
Petitioner raises two further claims of ineffective assistance of counsel: that O'Connell failed to file a proper notice of alibi witnesses, and that she failed to investigate Delshawn Williams as a potential witness. These two errors constitute deficient performance under Strickland's first prong. An assessment of the totality of the omitted evidence shows that the unprofessional errors of counsel were prejudicial. We consider these errors in turn***
The uncontested evidence in the record is that O'Connell failed to adequately investigate Simpson's statement, and she failed to adequately investigate Williams as suggested by Petitioner. In either case, it seems clear that O'Connell should have, at some point, contacted Williams, one of the individuals who lived in the house where Simpson purportedly had the conversation with Petitioner on April 22, 1996. This failure to investigate clearly constituted objectively deficient performance ***
We can see no strategic purpose in failing to investigate Williams as a potential favorable witness. As this Court stated: "Where counsel fails to investigate and interview promising witnesses, and therefore `ha[s] no reason to believe they would not be valuable in securing [defendant's] release,' counsel's inaction constitutes negligence, not trial strategy." Workman v. Tate, 957 F.2d 1339, 1345 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting United States ex rel. Cosey v. Wolff, 727 F.2d 656, 658 n.3 (7th Cir. 1984)). Blackburn v. Foltz, 828 F.2d 1177, 1183 (6th Cir. 1987) ("Counsel did not make any attempt to investigate this known lead, nor did he even make a reasoned professional judgment that for some reason investigation was not necessary

Joseph v. Coyle, No. 05-3111 (6th Cir. 11/9/2006) (6th Cir., 2006)
AEDPA DEFERENCE: As the text of the statute makes clear, however, § 2254(d)(1)'s limits on habeas relief apply only if there is a state-court "adjudicat[ion] on the merits" of a given claim. For reasons we discuss at greater length in Part IV.C, Joseph's Brady claim was not "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" and therefore is not governed by the strictures of § 2254(d)(1). Joseph's remaining claims were, however, "adjudicated on the merits" by the state courts, so § 2254(d)(1)'s limits apply. For each of these claims, the decision we review is that of "the last state court to issue a reasoned opinion on the issue." Payne v. Bell, 418 F.3d 644, 660 (6th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 2006 WL 732193 (U.S. June 26, 2006) (No. 05-9829); see also, e.g., Schultz v. Page, 313 F.3d 1010, 1015 (7th Cir. 2002) ("[A] federal court reviewing a habeas petition should examine the decision of the last state court to rule on the merits of the issue."), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 1057 (2003); Franklin v. Johnson, 290 F.3d 1223, 1233 n.3 (9th Cir. 2002) ("This court . . . must look to the last reasoned decision of the state court as the basis of the state court's judgment."); Barrientes v. Johnson, 221 F.3d 741, 779 (5th Cir. 2000) ("When the last state adjudication of the claim is silent or ambiguous, the federal court should look through to the last clear state decision on the matter." (internal quotation marks omitted)), cert. dismissed, 531 U.S. 1134 (2001). ***
STRICKLAND ISSUE: A number of recent cases have emphasized that defense attorneys have a constitutional duty to conduct adequate factual investigations. See, e.g., Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374 (2005); Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003). Yet it can hardly be doubted that defense lawyers have a constitutional obligation to investigate and understand the law as well. See, e.g., Williams, 529 U.S. at 395 (noting that counsel "failed to conduct an investigation . . . not because of any strategic calculation but because they incorrectly thought that state law barred access to such records."); Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690 ("[S]trategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable . . . ." (emphasis added)); Smith v. Dretke, 417 F.3d 438, 442-43 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[Defense counsel] failed to achieve a rudimentary understanding of the well-settled law of self-defense in Texas. By doing so, he neglected the central issue in his client's case. . . . This misunderstanding could have been corrected with minimal legal research." (footnote omitted)) ***
RE: NO AEDPA DEFERENCE WHEN NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE PRESENTED FOR FIRST TIME DURING FEDERAL HABEAS Joseph's current Brady claim is not the same as the one he brought before the state courts: he now relies on a different mix of suppressed evidence that includes some items discovered only during federal habeas proceedings. Thus, Joseph argues, his Brady claim was not "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings," and AEDPA's strict standard of review does not apply. We agree. Williams v. Coyle, 260 F.3d 684 (6th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 947 (2002), we reviewed a Brady claim based on evidence disclosed during federal habeas proceedings "under pre-AEDPA standards because no state court reviewed the merits of that claim." Id. at 706; Monroe v. Angelone, 323 F.3d 286, 297-98 (4th Cir. 2003) (collecting cases); Holland v. Jackson, 542 U.S. 649, 653 (2004) (noting that "[w]here new evidence is admitted, some Courts of Appeals have conducted de novo review on the theory that there is no relevant state-court determination to which one could defer" and "[a]ssuming . . . that this analysis is correct and that it applies where . . . the evidence does not support a new claim but merely buttresses a previously rejected one"). Because AEDPA's standard of review does not apply here, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error, while whether a Brady violation occurred is a mixed question of law and fact that we review de novo. Williams, 260 F.3d at 706.

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