Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Yee v. Duncan (9th Cir. - March 28, 2006)

A criminal habeas case. In which the petitioner is a pro se prisoner. Raising a constitutional argument in an attempt to reverse his conviction. Under AEDPA, which requires that the state court's refusal to grant relief was an unreasonable application of federal law. The panel: Kozinski, Trott and Bea.

Given these predicate contours, when you see from the caption that the decision is unanimous, you'll be justly excused if you initially conclude -- as I did -- that the panel will reject the petition. But they don't. The panel ends up granting the petition and reversing the conviction, which is probably not the usual result that would arise in habeas cases resolved by such a panel.

Admittedly, the case is a bit unusual. The prosecutor here (in a sexual assault case) had struck a ton of men from the venire, and when defendant raised a Batson challenge, the prosecutor was honest and admitted that she couldn't remember any reason why she struck one of the male jurors. Such forthrightness is, sadly, all too rare, in my view, and is assuredly a huge reason why the result comes out the way it does . In addition, there's a substantial body of precedent, both in the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit (as well as elsewhere), that holds that absent such an explanation by the prosecutor, the defendant is entitled to relief. Finally, the panel is confronted by a district court decision that grants the petition, and it is a fair bit easier in habeas cases to affirm rather than reverse.

So don't expect this sort of thing to happen every day. But, still, the panel -- rightly, in my view -- affirms the grant of the petition. Do I think that the prosecutor deliberately struck men based upon their gender? Well, I'm not really sure, but from what little I know, probably not. Still, if there's a prima facie case, I think that the prosecutor at least has to proffer a reason, and when she can't, we need to reverse. At a minimum, it seems to me that this is what precedent -- including Batson -- fairly clearly holds.

So a rare Bea/Kozinski/Trott grant of a habeas petition. About as rare as a heavy rain in San Diego. Which in fact occurred on the same day the opinion was rendered. Coincidence? You be the judge.