A Ninth Circuit panel last week issued a five-page memorandum decision in Jackson v. Broomfield affirming a district court grant of habeas corpus relief to a prisoner whose death sentence for a 1984 murder the Supreme Court had upheld (People v. Jackson (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1164). Post-appeal state habeas relief by the superior court had already overturned the death penalty and left the prisoner serving life in prison without parole. The Ninth Circuit ruling now negates the conviction as well and could result in the prisoner’s freedom.

Twenty-eight years ago, the Supreme Court concluded “the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s Wheeler motion” that claimed racial discrimination in the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to strike all Black prospective jurors in the trial of the Black defendant. (13 Cal.4th at p. 1198.) However, even applying a highly deferential standard of review, the district court and the Ninth Circuit disagreed.

The district court said federal precedent required it “to analyze the voir dire record to determine how the black potential jurors were treated compared to non-black potential jurors,” but, it continued, “In contrast, the California Supreme Court did not perform that analysis, but instead simply deferred to the reasoning and terse ruling of the trial judge.” (Jackson v. Davis (C.D. Cal., Feb. 9, 2022) 2022 WL 18284663, at *1.) Additionally, it ruled “a fairminded jurist reviewing the trial court’s decision on appeal would have found it to be clearly erroneous.” (Id. at p. *30.) The Ninth Circuit “agree[d] with the district court’s conclusion that the state court’s decision . . . was unreasonable on the record before it.”

The affirmed district court order provided that the prisoner “either be retried or set free.” It then said, “Based on the age of the case, the Court assumes that retrial is not possible, but of course that is a decision for the Riverside County District Attorney.” (2022 WL 18284663, at *30.)

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


“From the bench, an ‘impotent silence’ ”

Ninth Circuit says Supreme Court death penalty opinion on Batson claim was unreasonable, but denies habeas relief anyway

Ninth Circuit won’t overturn Supreme Court’s rejection of Batson challenge in death penalty appeal

Supreme Court affirms death penalty, with a Batson dissent