Ninth Circuit Panel Denies Habeas; Incites Strong Dissent

by RyanD on October 8, 2012

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a California District Court denial of writ of habeas corpus in what a dissenting member of the panel says is a direct violation of Brady v. Maryland.

On appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Ford v. Gonzalez sought to overturn the lower court’s denial of a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254 after Ford discovered that prosecutors had withheld evidence that the principal prosecution witness in Ford’s trial, Constance Goins, had been given favorable treatment in exchange for her testimony.

The Circuit Court ruled that the habeas petition was time barred, as it exceeded the one year statute of limitations under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), because, the court said,  “the factual predicate of his claims could have been discovered had he exercised due diligence at his trial.” The court further denied Ford’s claim for equitable tolling, “because he did not exercise reasonable diligence, and no extraordinary circumstance prevented the timely filing of his claims. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of his habeas claims as time barred.”

That was the decision of the two-judge majority of the panel; however the third, Circuit Judge John T. Noonan disagreed, arguing that, as an inmate, Ford had no knowledge of Goins’ case status or the fact that she received lenient treatment in exchange for testimony against Ford, nor did he have the funds with which to gain access to the records of Goins’ criminal history, which the habeas petition cited as exculpatory.

“The rule of law is subverted when the state violates an important constitutional norm and then attempts to minimize the harm it has done.” Circuit Judge Noonan wrote, referring to his opinion that the state violated Brady v. Maryland when it withheld the exculpatory evidence.

In addition, the Ninth Circuit majority held that Ford’s wife Beverly, Goins’ sister, would have or should have known about the deal that Goins had made with the prosecutor, and that the time of her knowledge was the point when the statute of limitation under AEDPA commenced. Judge Noonan declared in his dissent that the court should never have imposed any responsibility upon Beverly Ford for discovering such evidence and that Beverly Ford’s information or knowledge should not have been considered in terms of any duty to perform due diligence on the part of petitioner Ford.

“Contrary to constitutional law established by the United States Supreme Court, this panel of the Ninth Circuit excuses a flagrant violation of Brady by imposing upon the wife of an incarcerated defendant the obligation of detecting the state’s breach of Brady within the statutory limitations period.

The next step for Ford’s counsel will be petitioning the Ninth Circuit for en banc hearing of the case, and depending upon the outcome of the petition or hearing, on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit has garnered a record of numerous reversals in habeas cases, such as the recent decision in Martel v. Clair.

Carol Anderson  wrote this article on behalf of Contra Costa County DUI. When looking for legal advice over your rights and what you can do after a DUI arrest , a certified DUI attorney can help.




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