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Ninth Circuit Court Gets Tougher on Review of Death Penalty Cases (Henry v. Ryan, 9th Circuit, 2014)

A recent decision by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal has returned bad news for a defendant seeking review of his death penalty conviction.

The case centers around the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the finality of a conviction, wherein federal courts must respect a judgment made at the state level (Ryan v. Schad, 133 S. Ct. 2548, 2551 (2013).

The Ninth Circuit has said that in the present case, finality is long overdue.

Henry v. Ryan (Case No. 09-99007, 9th Circuit, April 8, 2014)

On June 19, 2013, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a federal habeas corpus petition challenging the capital murder, kidnapping and related convictions of Graham Henry, an Arizona death-row prisoner.Gen%204.jpg

Previous challenges involved the prisoner’s belief that structural error had been committed when the trial court rejected his claim for leniency due to his lifelong alcoholism and intoxication at the time of his arrest.

The panel then gave Henry two extensions of time to file petitions for rehearing in front of a three judge federal panel and in front of all 11 judges of the Ninth Circuit (known as an en banc hearing).

No judge requested a vote to hear the matter en banc. Consequently, the court denied the petition on Nov. 1, 2013. Henry delayed for five months his request for redress at the U.S. Supreme Court level. In those five months, a related case received an en banc hearing. Meanwhile, Henry submitted a timely petition for certiorari, the process to formerly request a hearing with the Supreme Court.

Two weeks later, Henry then requested another full court reconsideration of the November 1 denial of his petition with the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit explained that Henry may not once again seek audience in front of that court, permitting delay of Supreme Court review while other cases work their way through the courts. As the judge who denied reconsideration stated, the issue is not cognizable under Ninth Circuit en banc rules.

Why Does the Petitioner Want to Stay in the Lower Court?

Henry believes errors were made in his case that did not give enough weight to his intoxication at the time of the murder as a mitigating factor. He named at least 16 other Arizona capital cases currently “in the pipeline” that would be affected by a Supreme Court disposition in his case.

He apparently feels that reconsideration of his claims is likely to fair better within the lower court’s jurisdiction, pending the outcomes of these other cases.

However, the Ninth Circuit has already considered and rejected his claims, which means he cannot come back to the lower court once he has moved on to the next level.

What Did the Ninth Circuit Court Rule?

The Ninth Circuit denied further reconsideration of Henry’s petition, stating:

“Just last year, we were chided for holding on to a death penalty case for too long. See Schad, 133 S. Ct. at 2551. In the process, we were told that ‘[s]tates have an “interest in the finality of convictions that have survived direct review within the state court system.”‘ Id. (quoting Bell v. Thompson, 545 U.S. 794, 813 (2005)). We need not be told again.”

In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit declared that the Supreme Court is not only the correct venue for Henry’s continued pursuit of his belief that structural error was committed, it is the swiftest and most efficient.

“The perceived friendlier waters of the Ninth Circuit cannot harbor all boats indefinitely,” concludes the Ninth Circuit panel.

Was This a Fair Decision?

The decision is fair…though not at all what a death-row inmate wants to hear. Being granted certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court level is rare. If denied, the lower courts’ decisions would stand, thus making a prisoner’s execution a forgone conclusion.

However, the pursuit of justice requires forward progression. The state, on behalf of the people, having survived direct review, is entitled to have a criminal sentence carried out.
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The petitioner in this case was convicted 28 years ago. He has sought remedy in each reviewing court, and his judgment has been consistently affirmed. Permitting him to come back to the Ninth Circuit after he has already petitioned for redress at the Supreme Court level would open the door for every other prisoner to do the same thing, effectively ending the concept of constitutional due process.

While it is completely understandable why a death row inmate would want to position his case in a court where he believes he stands the best chance for a favorable decision, justice has been served in this case.

This petitioner has already had his day in court in the Ninth Circuit. As the court reasoned, it is time for him to move on.

What Should You Do if You Believe Errors Were Committed in Your Case?

If you are convicted of a crime, you may be entitled to appeal your judgment, request a new trial, or petition for relief of your conviction or confinement on writ of habeas corpus. You must be able to demonstrate that legal errors were committed that would justify a different outcome.

Appealing a judgment, sentence or a condition of your confinement can be very complex and should be handled by a criminal defense attorney experienced in post-conviction relief matters.

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today

If you or someone you love has been convicted of a crime and believes errors were made during the case, you should speak with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today. A conviction isn’t necessarily the final disposition in a criminal matter. Options may still be available to you to challenge an adverse decision.

Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending the rights of our clients seeking post-conviction relief.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich can advise you on the best course of legal action. Getting you the best result possible is our number one priority.

Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

About Wallin & Klarich

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Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.