High Court Considers Sixth Amendment Ruling in Juror “Bias” Case

Johnson v. Williams (11-465) arises out of the California criminal trial of Tara Williams who was convicted of special circumstances murder and forearms enhancement. During the trial, a juror was dismissed for being biased against the prosecution and was replaced by an alternate juror after an inquiry by the trial court.

Williams appealed to the Court of Appeals under the California state constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction without specifically addressing Williams’ Sixth Amendment claim. She then filed a federal habeas corpus petition in federal court, which was denied by the district court.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, finding that Williams’ Sixth Amendment claim had not been “adjudicated on the merits.”

Warden Deborah K. Johnson (the Petitioner) appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the Ninth Circuit was incorrect. The Petitioner claims that while the Court of Appeals did not explicitly mention the Sixth Amendment claim in its decision, that court did adjudicate the Sixth Amendment federal claim on the merits.

The Petitioner asked the Supreme Court to adopt, as a rule, that when a case is decided, all claims are deemed to be adjudicated unless there is a plain statement of the court to the contrary.

Justice Kennedy opined to the Petitioner that even if the court did not adopt this rule, that the Petitioner could win because the Sixth Amendment claim was determined by the reading of the Court of Appeals ruling.

Justice Ginsberg, in narrowing the focus to the case at hand indicated that the state law claims and the constitutional claims were so dependent on each other, that the Sixth Amendment claims were actually adjudicated.

Many of the justices argued that the word “denied” assumed under the presumption of regularity, that all claims before the court were adjudicated, and no further language would be necessary. In addition, that to require this additional inquiry would likely increase litigation in these cases. Extrapolating from this, Justice Scalia lamented that such litigation in capital punishment cases could “reduce the sentence” of those sentenced to death.

Straying from the issue before the Court, a number of justices, including Justices Kennedy, Kagan, Ginsberg and Sotomayor dove into the merits and facts of the underlying case, expressing concern.

Justice Kennedy said I “hope this (excusing jurors for bias against the prosecution) doesn’t happen with much regularity.” Justice Kagen joined Justice Kennedy in calling the facts of the case and it’s outcome “troubling.”

In a lengthy discussion with the attorney for the Respondent, Justice Breyer went through the decision of the Court of Appeals noting that of the 27 lines of the decision, 14 of them dealt with the Cleveland case. And, Breyer continued, that because that case was a ruling on the Sixth Amendment and juror bias, the lower court must have reached the merits of Sixth Amendment claim.

Kagan seemed to agree summarizing that the issue before the court was not whether the Sixth Amendment claim was decided correctly the Court of Appeals in relying on the Cleveland case, rather, it matters that they actually considered the Sixth Amendment claim.

Shane Farnan
Shane Farnan is a U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for the Talk Radio News Service. Shane is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the UCLA School of Law. He has worked for law firms in Los Angeles and New York City, and has consulted for firms in New York and Florida. Shane is also the Associate Producer for The Thom Hartmann Program.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Senate Passes Fast-track Authority, Moves To Resistant House

The bill moves on to the lower chamber where it faces an inevitable battle from House Democrats.

Senate Rejects Currency Provision

Senate Republicans (Photo by James Cullum)

The failed provision is a win for President Obama who issued a veto threat over the entire fast-track bill if the amendment passed

UN: Women Disproportionately Affected by Nepal Earthquake

The flag of the Nepal at the United Nations. Photo: Luke Vargas/TRNS

Gender discrimination, a lack of maternal health facilities and poor security in temporary camps is making post-earthquake life difficult for Nepali women.

The World in 2:00 – May 22, 2015

The World in 2:00 continents logo

UN data shows women disproportionately affected by the Nepal earthquake and Irish voters are poised to legalize same-sex marriage in a national vote today.

Obama Signs Law Granting Congressional Review Of Iran Deal

Capitol

Congress will now be able to reject or approve a nuclear deal reached with Iran which is expected to be announced June 30

State Releases First Set Of Clinton Emails

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton addresses press over email controversy March 10, 2015. Photo/Luke Vargas TRNS

The nearly 300 emails released were related to the ongoing congressional investigation surrounding the 2012 Benghazi attacks.