McKinney v. Ryan, No. 09–99018.

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
Writing for the CourtW. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge
Citation813 F.3d 798
Docket NumberNo. 09–99018.
Decision Date29 December 2015
Parties James Erin McKINNEY, Petitioner–Appellant, v. Charles L. RYAN, Respondent–Appellee.

813 F.3d 798

James Erin McKINNEY, Petitioner–Appellant,
v.
Charles L. RYAN, Respondent–Appellee.

No. 09–99018.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted En Banc Dec. 15, 2014.
Filed Dec. 29, 2015.


813 F.3d 801

Ivan K. Mathew(argued) and Susan Turner Mathew, Mathew and Associates, Phoenix, AZ, for Petitioner–Appellant.

Jon Anderson(argued) and Jeffrey A. Zick, Assistant Attorneys General, Terry Goddard, Attorney General, and Kent Cattani, Chief Counsel, Arizona Attorney General's Office, Criminal Appeals/Capital Litigation Section, Phoenix, AZ, for Respondent–Appellee.

Michael L. Burkeand Robin Konrad, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, Jon M. Sands, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, Phoenix, AZ, for Amicus Curiae Office of the Federal Public Defender.

813 F.3d 802

Before: SIDNEY R. THOMAS, Chief Judge, and ALEX KOZINSKI, KIM McLANE WARDLAW, WILLIAM A. FLETCHER, RONALD M. GOULD, MARSHA S. BERZON, RICHARD C. TALLMAN, CONSUELO M. CALLAHAN, CARLOS T. BEA, MORGAN CHRISTENand JACQUELINE H. NGUYEN, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge W. FLETCHER; Dissent by Judge BEA.

OPINION

W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner James McKinney was sentenced to death, and his sentence was affirmed by the Arizona Supreme Court on de novo review in 1996. State v. McKinney, 185 Ariz. 567, 917 P.2d 1214 (1996). A three-judge panel of this court denied McKinney's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. McKinney v. Ryan, 730 F.3d 903 (9th Cir.2013). We granted rehearing en banc and withdrew our three-judge panel opinion. McKinney v. Ryan, 745 F.3d 963 (9th Cir.2014). In his federal habeas petition, McKinney challenges both his conviction and sentence. We agree with the decision of the three-judge panel with respect to McKinney's challenges to his conviction, and to that extent we incorporate the decision of the panel. We address in this opinion only McKinney's challenge to his death sentence. For the reasons that follow, we grant the petition with respect to his sentence.

In Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 114, 102 S.Ct. 869, 71 L.Ed.2d 1 (1982), the Supreme Court held under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments that a sentencer in a capital case may not "refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence" offered by the defendant. (Emphasis in original.) Oklahoma state courts had refused, as a matter of law, to treat as relevant mitigating evidence a capital defendant's background of family violence, including beatings by his father, on the ground that "it did not tend to provide a legal excuse from criminal responsibility." Id. at 113, 102 S.Ct. 869. The Supreme Court reversed. Recognizing the special character of the death penalty, the Court held that evidence of Eddings's background of family violence had to be treated as relevant evidence in determining whether to put him to death. The Court wrote, "The sentencer, and the Court of Criminal Appeals on review, may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence. But they may not give it no weight by excluding such evidence from their consideration." Id. at 114–15, 102 S.Ct. 869.

At all times relevant to this case, Arizona law provided for two kinds of mitigation factors in capital sentencing—statutory and nonstatutory. A nonexhaustive list of five statutory mitigating factors was provided in Ariz.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 13–703(G). Arizona case law applied, in addition, nonstatutory mitigating factors, such as a difficult family background or a mental condition not severe enough to qualify as a statutory mitigating factor.

For a period of a little over 15 years in capital cases, in clear violation of Eddings, the Supreme Court of Arizona articulated and applied a "causal nexus" test for nonstatutory mitigation that forbade as a matter of law giving weight to mitigating evidence, such as family background or mental condition, unless the background or mental condition was causally connected to the crime. In

813 F.3d 803

State v. Wallace, 160 Ariz. 424, 773 P.2d 983, 986 (1989), decided seven years after Eddings and four years before petitioner was sentenced, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, "A difficult family background, in and of itself, is not a mitigating circumstance.... A difficult family background is a relevant mitigating circumstance if a defendant can show that something in that background had an effect or impact on his behavior that was beyond the defendant's control." In State v. Ross, 180 Ariz. 598, 886 P.2d 1354, 1363 (1994), decided one year after petitioner was sentenced but before his sentence was affirmed on appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, citing the precise page in Wallace, "A difficult family background is not a relevant mitigating circumstance unless 'a defendant can show that something in that background had an effect or impact on his behavior that was beyond the defendant's control.' State v. Wallace, ... 160 Ariz. 424, 773 P.2d 983, 986 (1989)."

Two years after its decision in Ross, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed McKinney's death sentence. In addressing the potential mitigating effect of his mental condition, the Court wrote that McKinney's PTSD had no causal nexus to his crimes. If anything, the Court wrote, "the effects of [his] childhood, specifically the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)" would have influenced him not to commit the crimes. McKinney, 917 P.2d at 1234. The Court concluded its analysis of McKinney's PTSD, citing the precise page in Ross on which it had articulated the causal nexus test for nonstatutory mitigation: "[A] difficult family background, including childhood abuse, does not necessarily have substantial mitigating weight absent a showing that it significantly affected or impacted the defendant's ability to perceive, comprehend, or control his actions. See State v. Ross, ... 180 Ariz. 598, 886 P.2d 1354, 1363 (1994)." State v. McKinney, 185 Ariz. 567, 917 P.2d 1214, 1234 (1996).

For just over fifteen years, the Arizona Supreme Court consistently articulated and applied its causal nexus test, in accordance with its strong view of stare decisis. See Young v. Beck, 227 Ariz. 1, 251 P.3d 380, 385 (2011)("[S]tare decisis commands that 'precedents of the court should not be lightly overruled,' and mere disagreement with those who preceded us is not enough." (quoting State v. Salazar, 173 Ariz. 399, 416, 844 P.2d 566 ... (1992))); State ex rel. Woods v. Cohen, 173 Ariz. 497, 844 P.2d 1147, 1148 (1993)(referring to "a healthy respect for stare decisis"); State v. Williker, 107 Ariz. 611, 491 P.2d 465, 468 (1971)(referring to "a proper respect for the theory of stare decisis"); White v. Bateman, 89 Ariz. 110, 358 P.2d 712, 714 (1961)(prior case law "should be adhered to unless the reasons of the prior decisions have ceased to exist or the prior decision was clearly erroneous or manifestly wrong").

The case before us is unusual. In federal habeas cases under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), we apply a "presumption that state courts know and follow the law" and accordingly give state-court decisions "the benefit of the doubt." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002). If the Arizona Supreme Court during the relevant period had been inconsistent in its articulation and application of its unconstitutional "causal nexus" test for nonstatutory mitigation, we would give the Court the benefit of the doubt and would accord it the presumption that it knew and followed governing federal law. But the Arizona Supreme Court's consistent articulation and application of its causal nexus test, and its citation in McKinney's case to the specific page of Ross on which it articulated

813 F.3d 804

the test, make such a course impossible. While Visciotti's presumption is appropriate in the great majority of habeas cases, the presumption is rebutted here where we know, based on its own words, that the Arizona Supreme Court did not "know and follow" federal law.

The precise question before us is whether the Arizona Supreme Court applied its unconstitutional "causal nexus" test in affirming McKinney's death sentence on de novo review. We must decide whether, under AEDPA, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to give weight, as a matter of law, to McKinney's nonstatutory mitigation evidence of PTSD, "contrary to ... clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that it did. We therefore grant the writ with respect to petitioner's sentence.

I. McKinney's Crimes, Conviction, and Sentence

James McKinney and his older half brother, Charles Michael Hedlund, committed two burglaries in February and March of 1991. One person was shot and killed during each of the burglaries. At the time of the crimes, McKinney was 23 years old. Hedlund was 26 years old. McKinney and Hedlund had learned about potential burglary targets from their half brother, Christopher Morris, and a friend, Joe Lemon, who had suggested Christine Mertens's home as a target. The four of them attempted to burglarize Ms. Mertens's home on February 28,...

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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • May 9, 2018
    ...particularly in light of the minimal to nonexistent probative value of Mikhel's proffered mitigation evidence. See McKinney v. Ryan , 813 F.3d 798, 821 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc) (reviewing the exclusion of mitigating evidence for harmlessness).32 Kadamovas argues that these harms were exace......
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
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    ...of a different outcome in the Arizona Supreme Court." Id. at 671.As we pointed out in our en banc opinion in McKinney v. Ryan , 813 F.3d 798 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc), the Arizona Supreme Court is conscientious in following its own precedents. There, we wrote:[T]he Arizona Supreme Court has......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
148 cases
  • Rienhardt v. Shinn, CV-03-0290-TUC-DCB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • November 8, 2021
    ...v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Clabourne v. Ryan, 745 F.3d 362, 377 (9th Cir. 2014), overruled on other grounds by McKinney v. Ryan, 813 F.3d 798, 819 (9th Cir. 2015). Strickland requires a demonstration “that both (a) post-conviction counsel's performance was deficient, and (b) there ......
  • Martinez v. Ryan, No. 08-99009
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • June 18, 2019
    ...a causal connection to the crime. Towery v. Ryan , 673 F.3d 933, 946 (9th Cir. 2012), overruled on other grounds by McKinney v. Ryan , 813 F.3d 798 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc). The sentencer may, however, consider "causal nexus ... as a factor in determining the weight or significance of miti......
  • United States v. Mikhel, No. 07-99008
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • May 9, 2018
    ...particularly in light of the minimal to nonexistent probative value of Mikhel's proffered mitigation evidence. See McKinney v. Ryan , 813 F.3d 798, 821 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc) (reviewing the exclusion of mitigating evidence for harmlessness).32 Kadamovas argues that these harms were exace......
  • Kayer v. Ryan, No. 09-99027
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 18, 2019
    ...of a different outcome in the Arizona Supreme Court." Id. at 671.As we pointed out in our en banc opinion in McKinney v. Ryan , 813 F.3d 798 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc), the Arizona Supreme Court is conscientious in following its own precedents. There, we wrote:[T]he Arizona Supreme Court has......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
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