In Cook v. Kernan, a 2-1 Ninth Circuit this week affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief to a prisoner serving a life-without-parole sentence for three first degree murders.  He was originally sentenced to death, and the California Supreme Court affirmed (People v. Cook (2006) 39 Cal.4th 566).  That court later issued an order to show cause on Cook’s state habeas petition, directing the superior court to determine whether he should be re-sentenced under Atkins v. Virginia (2002) 536 U.S. 304 because of his intellectual disability, and the superior court did then reduce his sentence.

In the state habeas proceeding, the Supreme Court also summarily rejected on the merits Cook’s argument that the police violated his constitutional rights in getting a confession.  The Ninth Circuit applied a standard highly deferential to that decision.  The majority refused to overturn the conviction “because fairminded jurists could disagree as to whether Cook’s confession was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights.”  The dissenting judge, on the other hand, concluded that “the California Supreme Court’s summary ruling that he intelligently and knowingly waived his Miranda rights involved an unreasonable determination of the facts and an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.”

The Ninth Circuit usually, but not always, refuses to overturn California Supreme Court decisions.


“From the bench, an ‘impotent silence’.”