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9th Circuit Overturns Death Sentence

Jones v. Ryan Docket: 18-99005, Opinion Date: June 28, 2021. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Arizona death sentence. The panel applied the appropriate standards pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) and concluded that petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel at sentencing. In regard to Claim 1, the panel agreed with petitioner that his right to counsel was violated when his attorney failed to request a mental health expert in advance of the sentencing hearing. Alternatively, the panel agreed with petitioner that the PCR court used a defective fact-finding process with respect to his first claim when it denied PCR counsel's funding request for a defense neuropsychological expert, effectively preventing the factual development of this claim, and that the state court's failure to hold a hearing on his first claim resulted in an unreasonable determination of the facts. On de novo review, the panel concluded that counsel's errors prejudiced petitioner. In regard to Claim 2, the panel agreed with petitioner that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to seek neurological or neuropsychological testing prior to sentencing, and that the failure to do so fell below prevailing professional norms at the time. The panel also agreed with petitioner's alternative argument that the PCR court's decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(2). On de novo review, the panel concluded that counsel's errors prejudiced petitioner. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings.




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