Monday, June 21, 2010

Murdoch v. Castro (9th Cir. - June 21, 2010)

Here's a blistering Chief Judge Kozinski dissent. From a 6-5 en banc decision (though, more accurately, a 5-1-3-2, but with the top six in favor of one result and the bottom five in favor of the other) in which he's in the minority.

Just to give you a tenor of the thing, here's his conclusion:

"Today we become the only court in the country to hold that a state court may adjudicate a constitutional claim 'on the merits' by overlooking it, and then have its carelessness rewarded with AEDPA’s presumption that its adjudication was good enough for government work. We defer to a decision the state courts never made to reach a result that the state’s highest court disagrees with. We fail to give effect to the plain meaning of the Confrontation Clause—one of the best-established principles of Anglo-American law—on the ground that it isn’t 'clearly established.' Any one of these errors would be remarkable, but their combination produces a truly spectacular miscarriage of justice.

The purpose of AEDPA is to allow state courts to operate in good faith. So, in the ordinary case, when a defendant has an unbiased judge and the state courts take his constitutional claims seriously, we must defer even if we disagree on the merits. But this isn’t an ordinary case. The state trial judge coerced a key witness into testifying and the state appellate judges never addressed the key claim on appeal. Cases like this are the reason federal habeas exists. When a federal constitutional claim falls through the cracks of a state’s criminal justice system, federal courts must be there to catch it. No one else can. Charles Murdoch certainly deserved better from the California courts. Ultimately, though, it is we who surely did let him fall."

Tell us what how you really feel, Alex.