In Ochoa v. Davis, the Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a condemned prisoner’s bid for habeas corpus relief. The California Supreme Court had affirmed the prisoner’s conviction and death sentence for two 1990 murders (People v. Ochoa (2001) 26 Cal.4th 398, overruled in People v. Prieto (2003) 30 Cal.4th 226, 263, fn. 14) and denied state habeas petitions in 2002 and 2010.

The federal panel affirmed the district court’s denial of Ochoa’s habeas petition by applying a standard of review highly deferential to the Supreme Court’s rulings. It found four claims to be unconvincing: that some prospective jurors were improperly disqualified because of qualms about the death penalty, defense counsel was ineffective in not preventing those jurors from being excused for cause, counsel was ineffective during the trial’s penalty phase in failing to present mitigating evidence and in failing to investigate and attack aggravation evidence, and a death sentence is unconstitutional because of Ochoa’s intellectual disability.

The Ninth Circuit usually, but not always, refuses to overturn Supreme Court death penalty affirmances.


“From the bench, an ‘impotent silence’ ”