|Docket: 13-11882||Opinion Date: September 5, 2014|
|Judges: Carnes, Tjoflat|
|Areas of Law: Criminal Law|
Petitioner, a death row inmate convicted of murder, was granted a certificate of appealability by this court on two grounds: first, petitioner contended that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to an opening prayer, which was delivered in the presence of the jury venire by a minister of the church where the victim’s funeral service had been held; and second, petitioner contended that his due process rights were violated at his capital resentencing proceeding when the trial court refused to instruct the jury that he had agreed to waive his eligibility for parole, and that he had already been sentenced to two life terms plus fifteen years on his other counts of conviction, which would run consecutively to any sentence imposed for first-degree murder. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 where the district court’s decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
It is my opinion that bringing in a minister to pray in front of a jury is by all means controversial…as a defense attorney, I would have been jumping up and down in this regard – it automatically brings bias to the jury. While it may not arise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel, I would definitely expect the jury to be prejudiced and I would not be surprised if the case sees some changes in the future…perhaps a new trial???
As for the Petitioner’s contention that the jury should have been informed that he waived his eligibility for parole & he had already had two life sentences + 15 years, the Judge does not have to inform the jury of any prior sentencing arrangement and was not out of line in not doing so in this case.