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REVERSED: Prosecutorial Misconduct

Colin Dickey v. Ron Davis Docket: 19-99009, Opinion Date: May 31, 2023. Petitioner was sentenced to death in 1991 after a California state jury convicted him of robbery, burglary, and felony murder. He appealed the district court’s denial of his federal habeas corpus petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2254. Petitioner raised several certified claims, including claims that the prosecutor knowingly used false and misleading testimony in violation of Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), and failed to disclose favorable material evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to grant a conditional writ of habeas corpus as to the special-circumstances findings and the imposition of the death penalty and affirmed the district court’s holding as to Petitioner’s certified guilt-phase claims. The panel wrote that this is an exceptional case in which the prosecutor deliberately elicited, and then failed to correct, false and misleading testimony from the State’s star witness. The prosecutor went on to exploit the witness’s false testimony in his closing argument. He also failed to produce evidence to the defense team that would have seriously impeached the witness’s testimony. The panel wrote that the record makes clear that the State’s special-circumstances evidence depended on the witness’s testimony. Reviewing under the deferential standard afforded to state-court decisions by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the panel concluded it was objectively unreasonable for the state court to decide that the prosecutor’s misconduct was immaterial to the jury’s special circumstances findings.

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