Oral argument: Nov. 9, 2010
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Dec. 9, 2009)
HABEAS CORPUS, INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL, EVIDENTIARY HEARING
After receiving a death sentence in state court, Scott Pinholster submitted a habeas corpus petition in California federal district court claiming that his attorney’s deficient performance at trial violated his Sixth Amendment right to fair representation. Though the state court had dismissed Pinholster’s petition on the merits, the federal district court agreed to conduct an evidentiary hearing on new facts regarding Pinholster’s medical and family history that were available but not presented during the sentencing phase of Pinholster’s state trial. The federal district court eventually granted habeas relief, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, ordering a new sentencing proceeding. Now, the Warden at San Quentin State Prison argues that the new facts presented during the federal evidentiary hearing violated Section 2254 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 because these facts were not first presented in state court. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will affect the circumstances under which a federal habeas court may allow for evidentiary hearings that introduce facts not considered by state courts below.