Summary Order today from Second Circuit in Jenkins v. Brown, 09-4812-pr. It's a bit of a head-scratcher. Explanation below.
- Habeas Denied
- Argued: 2/22/11 (on submission)
- Panel: Kearse, Sack, Katzmann
- Lower Ct. Info: 09-CV-828, 2009 WL 2957316 (EDNY Sept. 15, 2009) (FB)
- In Circuit: Circuit Ct. COA
- Issue: whether petitioner was deprived of right to testify on his own behalf
ANALYSIS: For the most part, the relatively lengthy summary order is pretty fact-intensive. The defendant was in the middle of testifying and began to complain that he felt sick. The trial court concluded that it was simply a delaying tactic and decided to allow the trial to continue without the defendant finishing his testimony. Second Circuit concludes that the court's factual finding that the defendant was just seeking to delay should not be disturbed.
The head-scratching part has to do with the second half of the analysis. This issue had to do with whether the court's failure to grant a continuance infringed upon his contitutional right to testify. The court states that there is clearly established law that a defendant has a right to testify but that it's not absolute as it must bow to accomodate other legitimate interests in a criminal trial. HOWEVER, -- and this is really the knub of the case -- the restriction may not be arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes they are designed to serve.
The clearly established law seems pretty clearly established, right? The question should have been whether the state court's decision denying the adjournment was an unreasonable application of that principle, namely whether the restriction was arbitrary or disproportionate.
The Second Circuit spends a page setting it up that way. It dedicates a whole 9-line block quote to explaining how a federal court should decide whether a state court's decision was unreasonable.
But then it does not analyze it that way. Without ever mentioning that there was even a question about clearly established law, it held, "Where the Supreme Court's cases 'give no clear answer to the question presented, . . . it cannot be said taht the state court unreasonably applied clearly established Federal law."
Huh? That is a "clearly established law" denial. It's a 100% Musladin* analysis. In fact, the court even cites Musladin!
*Musladin = ever-shrinking definition of what constitutes clearly established law.
And, of course, this holding seems completely contradictory to the fact that it had just explained exactly what the clearly established law was for this situation. If this was going to be the basis of the holding, why structure the opinion this way? Why spend all of the real estate explaining the relevant law and what would make something an unreasonable application of that law -- dedicating a whole block quote to the subject matter for crying outloud -- just to shift gears and deny it for a reason that the court had just shown was inapplicable to the case?
I don't get it.