Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Ninth Circuit Declares:
Discharge of Juror Deliberating Doesn’t Require Relief
Case Has Twice Gone to U.S. Supreme Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In a case that has twice gone to the United States Supreme Court, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday held that a woman who was convicted of murder after a juror who was holding out for an acquittal was ousted from the case is not entitled to habeas corpus relief.
The opinion stems from a 1993 robbery during which the owner of a liquor store was fatally shot. The petitioner in the case is Tara S. Williams, who drove the get-away car.
During jury deliberations, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard R. Romero removed a juror who was holding out for an acquittal. He did so after hearing testimony from that juror and other jurors as to comments he had made.
Williams was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Opinion by Kozinski
In Friday’s decision, Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for himself and Senior District Judge Ronald M. Whyte, sitting by designation, in affirming the District Court’s denial of a writ. They had previously joined in an opinion reversing the denial.
Judge Stephen Reinhart dissented.
Kozinski noted that the court, on orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, was to decide the case under the standards set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), contained in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”).
That section forecloses federal habeas corpus relief where a reasoned opinion of the highest state court to act in the case either “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”
Case Loses Pertinence
Kozinski recounted that the previous opinion, in which relief was granted, relied on the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Symington (1999) 195 F.3d 1080, which declares that the dismissal of a juror violates the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial when it is “reasonably possible that the impetus for [the juror’s] dismissal came from her position on the merits of the case.”
That case cannot be invoked now, Kozinski said, explaining:
“Because the Supreme Court has held that AEDPA governs this case, we may not rely on circuit precedent when adjudicating Williams’s federal claim….Instead, we may grant relief only if the state court’s decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”…Williams has not cited any Supreme Court case imposing (or even hinting at) the Symington rule. Nor are we aware of such a case.”
With respect to the second permissible basis for granting habeas relief, he said the state Court of Appeal’s “finding that Juror 6 was biased because he would not follow the law was not ‘an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.’ ”
“We don’t approve of what the trial court did in this case. Our rule in Symington is preferable. But this is not a direct appeal, and we are not permitted to second-guess state-court judges because we might have reached a different result in the first instance. Given AEDPA’s preternaturally deferential standard of review, the district court’s order denying habeas relief must be AFFIRMED.”
Reinhardt argued in a dissent:
“There is one problem, however—the trial court did not dismiss Williams for being unwilling to follow the law. To the contrary, the trial court’s reasoning is plain: ‘I’m going to dismiss the juror, but not because he’s not deliberating and not because he’s not following the law” (emphasis added). Although the trial judge explicitly stated that he did not dismiss the juror for being unwilling to follow the law, and although there is no reason to doubt this statement, the state appellate court found the direct opposite—that the trial court dismissed the holdout juror for being unwilling to follow the law—and based its affirmance primarily on that finding. The appellate court’s finding was clearly ‘based on an unreasonable determination of the facts’ and thus warrants reversal under AEDPA.”
Kozinski responded to that point in the majority opinion. He said:
“Even if Judge Romero did not find that Juror 6 was unwilling to follow the law, the state appellate court did make such a finding….Thus, the fact that the state appellate court’s findings may have departed from those of the trial court is irrelevant. Federal habeas courts enforce reasonableness, not concordance.”
State Appellate Opinion
The California Court of Appeal opinion in the case, rendered Jan. 18, 2002, was authored by then Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein (since retired) of Div. Three. She said Williams’s challenge to Romero’s action in discharging a juror was “meritless.”
Klein noted that there was testimony from other jurors that Juror No. 6 had vowed not to abide by the court’s instructions. The jurist relied on Penal Code §1089 which authorizes a trial judge to discharge a juror who “upon...good cause shown to the court is found to be unable to perform [her] duty.”
The California Supreme Court denied review.
Judge George H. Wu of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On May 23, 2011, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
‘Twelve Angry Men’
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that opinion. He likened the discharged juror to the lone holdout portrayed by Henry Fonda in 1957 film, “Twelve Angry Men,” who gradually persuaded the other jurors to acquit.
The judge wrote:
“Twelve Angry Men made for great drama because it violated the sanctity of the jury’s secret deliberations by allowing the audience into the jury room. It was, of course, a work of fiction. We are presented here with a similar intrusion into heated deliberations involving a holdout juror, except that this one took place in open court, and it resulted in a woman being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment after the holdout was dismissed. Under the precedent that existed when petitioner’s conviction became final (and exists today as well), the trial court’s actions violated the petitioner’s Sixth Amendment rights, as incorporated with respect to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Reinhardt said that deference to the AEDPA standards was unnecessary because the Court of Appeal decided the case based on a statute, and “either overlooked or disregarded her Sixth Amendment claim entirely.”
High Court Reverses
On Feb. 20, 2013, the United States Supreme Court reversed in Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote:
“[W]e hold that the federal claim at issue here (a Sixth Amendment jury trial claim) must be presumed to have been adjudicated on the merits by the California courts, that this presumption was not adequately rebutted, that the restrictive standard of review set out in §2254(d)(2) consequently applies, and that under that standard respondent is not entitled to habeas relief. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”
Justice Antonin Scalia (since deceased) concurred in the judgment, only. There were no dissents.
Acts Under Compulsion
On remand, Wu’s denial of a writ was affirmed, on July 3, 2013. The per curium opinion said:
“In accordance with the Supreme Court’s opinion of February 20, 2013 as well as the resulting judgment, and taking note of the denial of a petition for rehearing on April 15, 2013, the district court’s denial of Williams’s habeas petition is
Reinhardt said in a concurring opinion:
“We are, of course, required to follow the mandate of the Supreme Court. We are also required to assume that the Court meant what it said in the introduction to its opinion, in which it appears to have denied Williams’s habeas claim, and that it fully considered the petition for rehearing when it refused to reconsider its decision. Given the introduction to the Court’s opinion, and particularly its denial of the petition for rehearing, I believe that we have no option but to conclude that the Court has deliberately precluded us from *1214 considering the merits of Williams’s habeas petition under AEDPA. Accordingly, uncomfortable as I am with that result, I respectfully join my colleagues in denying Williams’s petition.”
Kozinski also penned a concurring opinion, saying:
“Like Judge Reinhardt, I’m troubled by the Supreme Court’s treatment of Williams’s Sixth Amendment claim. Our confidence in the correctness of a guilty verdict in a criminal case rests in large part on the fact that 12 individuals, fairly chosen, unanimously agree that the defendant is guilty. In Williams’s case, there was a significant departure from this objective process. As documented by the trial transcript, the Superior Court appears to have removed a juror because he was holding out for acquittal.
“As several Justices noted at oral argument in the Supreme Court, such conduct by a trial judge is troubling. It cuts at the heart of our adversary system and casts doubt on the resulting verdict. If the trial judge may, during the course of deliberations, delve into the thought process of the jurors and remove those he disagrees with, our confidence in a unanimous verdict is necessarily diminished.”
“…I take comfort in knowing that, if we are wrong, we can be summarily reversed.”
He didn’t get quite what he wanted. The Supreme Court on July 1, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a per curium order, did grant certiorari, and vacate the Ninth Circuit’s reluctantly rendered opinion.
However, it remanded “for consideration of petitioner’s Sixth Amendment claim under the standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d),” leading the majority on Friday to again begrudgingly affirm, in Williams v. Johnson, No. 07-56127.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company