U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Application Of Federal Law Mandating Proper Deference To State Court Judgments

A.G. Lockyer Personally Argued Case, Rice v. Collins, And Obtains 9-0 Ruling

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

(SACRAMENTO) – The United States Supreme Court today unanimously reversed a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that had invalidated a three-strikes conviction on the basis of a jury selection violation. Attorney General Bill Lockyer personally argued the case, Rice v. Collins (No. 04-52), before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5, 2005 on behalf of the State of California and had urged the court to reverse the lower court ruling. The argument was Lockyer’s first before the nation’s highest court.

“The Supreme Court not only reached the right conclusion, it also has clarified the proper role for federal habeas courts reviewing state court decisions,” Lockyer said.

The legal question raised by the case was the amount of deference federal courts must give to state court rulings in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In its unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the rule that federal habeas courts must find the state-court conclusion “an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Applying this rule, the high court held that the Ninth Circuit erred by reversing the state-court conclusion that a juror had been properly dismissed for legitimate reasons. The Supreme Court reasoned that, “(r)easonable minds reviewing the record might disagree...but on habeas review that does not suffice to supersede the trial court’s credibility determination.”

Although this was Lockyer’s first U.S. Supreme Court argument, he has argued several other cases before state and federal courts during his tenure as Attorney General. Among the cases Lockyer has argued was a 1999 federal district court defense of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Also, in 2000 and 2003, respectively, Lockyer argued before the California Supreme Court in Hi-Voltage Wire Works v. City of San Jose (#S080318) and DVD Copy Control Assn., Inc. v. Bunner (#S102588).

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