537 U.S. 19 (2002), 02-137, Woodford v. Visciotti

Docket Nº:No. 02-137.
Citation:537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279, 71 U.S.L.W. 3307
Party Name:JEANNE WOODFORD, WARDEN v. JOHN LOUIS VISCIOTTI
Case Date:November 04, 2002
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 19

537 U.S. 19 (2002)

123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279, 71 U.S.L.W. 3307

JEANNE WOODFORD, WARDEN

v.

JOHN LOUIS VISCIOTTI

No. 02-137.

United States Supreme Court

November 4, 2002

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent killed one person and seriously wounded another during a robbery. A California jury convicted him of murder and sentenced him, to death. The State Supreme Court affirmed. In subsequently denying his state habeas corpus' petition, that court assumed' that respondent's trial counsel provided constitutionally inadequate representation' during the trial's penalty phase, but found that it did not prejudice the jury's sentencing decision. The Federal District Court later granted respondent federal habeas relief as to his sentence, finding that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase. In affirming, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the State Supreme Court's decision ran afoul of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) because it; was "contrary to" Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, and an "unreasonable application" of this Court's clearly established principles.

Held:

The Ninth Circuit's decision exceeds § 2254(d)'s limits on federal habeas review. First, that court erred in holding that the state court applied the wrong standard for evaluating prejudice. Under Strickland, a defendant need only establish a "reasonable probability" that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of his sentencing proceeding would have been different. Id. at 694, Strickland specifically rejected a higher standard: that the defendant must prove it more likely than not that the outcome would have been altered. Id., at 693. The Ninth Circuit erred in finding that the State Supreme Court held respondent to this higher standard because it used "probable" without the modifier "reasonably" in three places in its opinion,. The Ninth Circuit's readiness to attribute error is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law, and is incompatible with § 2254(d)'s highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings. The Ninth Circuit also erred in finding that the state-court decision involved ; an unreasonable application of this Court's clearly established precedents. There is no support for the conclusion that the state court failed to take into account the totality of the available mitigating evidence and to consider the prejudicial impact of counsel's actions. The state court found that, because the aggravating factors were so severe, respondent suffered no prejudice from trial counsel's (assumed) inadequacy. Whether or not a federal habeas court would have reached that same

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conclusion, habeas relief is not permissible under § 2254(d) unless the state court's decision is objectively unreasonable.

Certiorari granted; 288 F.3d 1097, reversed.

PER CURIAM.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the grant of habeas relief to respondent John Visciotti after concluding that he had been prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. 288 F.3d 1097 (2002). Because this decision exceeds the limits imposed on federal habeas review by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), we reverse.

I

Respondent and a co-worker, Brian Hefner, devised a plan to rob two fellow employees, Timothy Dykstra and Michael Wolbert, on November 8, 1982, their payday. They invited the pair to join them at a party. As the four were driving to that supposed destination in Wolbert’s car, respondent asked Wolbert to stop in a remote area so that he could relieve himself. When all four men had left the car, respondent pulled a gun, demanded the victims’ wallets (which turned out to be almost empty), and got Wolbert to tell him where in the car the cash was hidden. After Hefner had retrieved the cash, respondent walked over to the seated Dykstra and killed him with a shot in the chest from a distance of three or four feet. Respondent then raised the gun in both hands and shot Wolbert three times, in the torso and left shoulder, and finally, from a distance of about two feet, in the left eye. Respondent and Hefner fled the scene in Wolbert’s car. Wolbert miraculously survived to testify against them.

Respondent was convicted by a California jury of first- degree murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery, with a special-circumstance finding that the murder was committed during the commission of a robbery. The same jury determined that respondent should suffer death. The California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. People v. Visciotti, 2 Cal.4th 1, 825 P.2d 388 (1992).

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Respondent filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. That court appointed a referee to hold an evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact—after which, and after briefing on the merits, it denied the petition in a lengthy opinion. In re Visciotti, 14 Cal.4th 325, 926 P.2d 987 (1996). The California Supreme Court assumed that respondent’s trial counsel provided constitutionally inadequate representation during the penalty phase, but concluded that this did not prejudice the jury’s sentencing decision. Id., at 353, 356–357, 926 P.2d, at 1004, 1006.

Respondent filed a federal habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. That court determined that respondent had been denied effective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of his trial, and granted the habeas petition as to his sentence. The State appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Court of Appeals correctly observed that a federal habeas application can only be granted if it meets the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which provides:

“An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim—

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”

The Court of Appeals found that the California Supreme Court decision ran afoul of both the “contrary to” and the

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“unreasonable application” conditions of § 2254(d)(1), and affirmed the District Court’s grant of relief. See 288 F.3d, at 1118–1119. The State of California petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which we now grant...

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3931 practice notes
  • Henry v. Balcarcel, 110520 MIEDC, 17-cv-13362
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • November 5, 2020
    ...benefit of the doubt.'” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7); Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per A state-court's determination that a claim lacks merit “precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fair[-......
  • Mills v. Dunn, 113020 ALNDC, 6:17-cv-00789-LSC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Northern District of Alabama
    • November 30, 2020
    ...The burden of showing that an issue falls within § 2254(d)(1) or (d)(2) is upon the petitioner. See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25, 123 S.Ct. 357, 360 (2002). Section 2254(d)(1)'s "contrary to" and "unreasonable application of clauses have ind......
  • Pewitte v. Washburn, 122120 TNMDC, 3:20-cv-00010
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Middle District of Tennessee
    • December 21, 2020
    ...the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102, and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). Petitioner carries the burden of proof. Pinholster, 563 U.S. at Even that demanding review, however, ......
  • Zavala v. Gomez, 020921 ILNDC, 20 C 2787
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • February 9, 2021
    ...be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)). The court's review of a Strickland claim is also deferential. Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123. The result is a “doubly deferent......
  • Free signup to view additional results
3925 cases
  • Henry v. Balcarcel, 110520 MIEDC, 17-cv-13362
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • November 5, 2020
    ...benefit of the doubt.'” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7); Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per A state-court's determination that a claim lacks merit “precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fair[-......
  • Mills v. Dunn, 113020 ALNDC, 6:17-cv-00789-LSC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Northern District of Alabama
    • November 30, 2020
    ...The burden of showing that an issue falls within § 2254(d)(1) or (d)(2) is upon the petitioner. See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25, 123 S.Ct. 357, 360 (2002). Section 2254(d)(1)'s "contrary to" and "unreasonable application of clauses have ind......
  • Pewitte v. Washburn, 122120 TNMDC, 3:20-cv-00010
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Middle District of Tennessee
    • December 21, 2020
    ...the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102, and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). Petitioner carries the burden of proof. Pinholster, 563 U.S. at Even that demanding review, however, ......
  • Zavala v. Gomez, 020921 ILNDC, 20 C 2787
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • February 9, 2021
    ...be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)). The court's review of a Strickland claim is also deferential. Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123. The result is a “doubly deferent......
  • Free signup to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • A reasoning-process review model for federal habeas corpus.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 94 Nbr. 4, June 2004
    • June 22, 2004
    ...(same); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2002) (same); Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3 (2002) (per curium) (same); Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19 (2002) (per curium) (same); Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 689 (2002) (same); Ramdass v. Angelone, 530 U.S. 156, 165 (2000) (same); Weeks v. Angelon......
  • WHAT IS 'NEW'? DEFINING 'NEW JUDGMENT' AFTER MAGWOOD.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 117 Nbr. 8, June 2019
    • June 1, 2019
    ...(2015) ("AEDPA's requirements reflect a 'presumption that state courts know and follow the law.'" (citing Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19,24 (138.) Robert M. Cover & T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Dialectical Federalism: Habeas Corpus and the Court, 86 Yale L.J. 1035, 1048 (1977)......
  • Un-incorporating the Bill of Rights: the tension between the Fourteenth Amendment and the federalism concerns that underlie modern criminal procedure reforms.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 98 Nbr. 4, June 2008
    • June 22, 2008
    ...writ of habeas corpus has become "essential to federal supremacy." Steiker, supra note 8, at 886. But see Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 27 (2002) ("The federal habeas scheme leaves primary responsibility with the state courts for these judgments [as to the application o......
  • Strategery's refuge.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 99 Nbr. 4, September 2009
    • September 22, 2009
    ...a full record on the issue. Id. at 1064 & n.291. (128) Shriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 481 (2007). (129) Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 26 (2002). The Court held so despite counsel's failure to present evidence of respondent's "troubled family background," which includ......
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