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Williams v. Johnson

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 27, 2016

Tara Sheneva Williams, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Deborah K. Johnson, Warden of the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, Respondent-Appellee.

         On Remand from the United States Supreme Court D.C. No. CV-03-02691-GW

          Kurt David Hermansen, Law Office of Kurt David Hermansen, San Diego, California, and Steven M. Klepper, Kramon & Graham, P.A., Baltimore, Maryland, for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California, Gerald Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Xiomara Costello and Stephanie C. Brenan, Deputy Attorneys General, Los Angeles, California, for Respondent-Appellee.

          Before: Stephen Reinhardt and Alex Kozinski, Circuit Judges, and Ronald M. Whyte, [*] Senior District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Habeas Corpus

         On remand from the United States Supreme Court, the panel affirmed the district court's order denying habeas relief to Tara Williams, who asserted that the trial court's dismissal of a holdout juror during deliberations in her California murder trial violated her Sixth Amendment rights.

         The panel reviewed the Sixth Amendment claim under the standard set forth in AEDPA.

         The panel held that because the trial court's evidentiary hearing focused on the issue of juror bias, not on the nature of the jury's division, the process employed by the trial judge was not contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court authority.

         The panel held that Williams is not entitled to habeas relief on the theory that there is a reasonable probability the juror was excused because of his views as to guilt or innocence, where Williams has not cited any Supreme Court case imposing the rule set forth in United States v. Symington, 195 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir. 1999) – that the dismissal of a juror violates the Sixth Amendment when it is reasonably possible that the impetus for the juror's dismissal came from her position on the merits of the case – and the panel is unaware of such a Supreme Court case.

         The panel held that the state appellate court's finding that the juror was biased because he would not follow the law was not an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. The panel explained that the fact that the state appellate court's finding may have departed from those of the trial court is irrelevant.

         Dissenting, Judge Reinhardt wrote that the state appellate court's finding that the trial court dismissed the holdout juror for being unwilling to follow the law was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts and thus warrants relief under AEDPA.

          OPINION

          KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge:

         During deliberations in the California murder trial of Tara Williams, the court dismissed a juror who was holding out for acquittal. An alternate juror was seated, and the jury convicted. We consider whether Williams is entitled to habeas relief on the ground that the dismissal of the holdout juror violated her Sixth Amendment rights.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In the fall of 1993, Williams drove two of her friends around Long Beach, casing stores for a potential robbery. Williams eventually stopped at a liquor store. While Williams and her infant son waited in the car, her two friends went inside, murdered the store owner and robbed the cash register of $6 and food stamps. Williams was later charged with felony murder.

         After the jury retired, the foreman sent a note claiming that one juror had "expressed an intention to disregard the law." Judge Richard R. Romero and counsel questioned Juror 6, who admitted he had discussed jury nullification and the severity of the charge during deliberations. Judge Romero then questioned the other jurors, many of whom reported that Juror 6 had exhibited an unwillingness to follow the law because he disagreed with the felony murder rule and with the principle of vicarious liability. After hearing brief arguments from each side, Judge Romero said: "I'm going to dismiss [Juror 6], but not because he's not deliberating and not because he's not following the law." Although Judge Romero stated that Juror 6 was "dismissed without any question in my mind as a biased juror, " he also stated that "not following the law is not a basis for his dismissal." Judge Romero found that Juror 6 was biased because he was dishonest, was concerned with the severity of the charge and was "add[ing] his own words to the court's instructions as to what the law is." The judge then seated an alternate and the jury convicted the following day. Williams was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

         Williams argued on direct appeal that the dismissal of Juror 6 violated both her Sixth Amendment rights and the state statute governing juror dismissals. See Cal. Penal Code ยง 1089. The California Court of Appeal affirmed and the Supreme Court of California denied review. Williams ...


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