Oral argument: Dec. 6, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Nov. 17, 2010)
In 1987, a California jury convicted Respondent Kenneth Clair of the murder of Linda Rodgers, sentencing him to death. Clair filed a habeas corpus petition requesting new court-appointed counsel in 1995, but the district court rejected his request. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the district court’s decision, and remanded to allow Clair’s new attorney to present additional claims. Clair argues that the district court abused its discretion by not properly investigating Clair’s request for substitute counsel, and consequently that he (Clair) must be allowed to make new claims and present additional evidence in the interests of justice. The State of California, however, argues that Clair should not be permitted to circumvent the workings of the justice system by rearguing his case merely because of dissatisfaction with his court-appointed counsel. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine the standard courts use in granting requests from habeas petitioners for substitute counsel, as well as the finality of appellate denials of habeas petitions.