NYT on AEDPA and the Mess that Is Federal Habeas

Emily Bazelon has a piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine all about AEDPA and its impact on the ability of federal courts to perform any substantive review of criminal cases that went seriously awry in the state court.  A basic point emphasized in the piece, which should be of concern even to regular folks who don’t care much about criminal law, is that the requirements of AEDPA have not reduced federal court workloads at all, and have instead had the opposite effect.  AEDPA, Bazelon writes, has

failed at its stated aim of reducing time-consuming appeals. According to a 2007 study by Nancy J. King, Fred L. Cheeseman II and Brian J. Ostrom, the time courts spend processing habeas cases has actually increased on average. “To the extent that [the law’s] provisions were designed to streamline the overall processing of individual cases, that result has not been achieved,” the authors concluded.

What are federal courts doing with that extra time? As I mentioned the other day, they are “handling questions about procedural default, exhaustion, statutes of limitations, tolling, and so on, instead of looking at the substance of habeas claims.”

If we want to spend big chunks of taxpayer money paying federal judges to fritter away their days analyzing hair-splitting procedural technicalities that almost nobody understands or cares about, AEDPA is a smashing success.  But many folks feel that the goal of pursuing essentially fair results has gotten lost in the swamp of technical gobbledygook, even as the time spent to dispose of these claims has continued to creep upward.  Among the folks who are concerned, Bazelon notes, are Ninth Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Alex Kozinski, both of whom have recently published articles that are sharply critical of AEDPA.

Related Posts:

AEDPA Turns 19 Today. Wear Red Tape to the Party.  (April 24, 2015)

Doody v. Ryan: Is Federal Habeas Review Just “a Big, Fat Rubber Stamp?”  Is Deference a “Blindfold”? (May 10, 2011)

Blistering 11th Circuit Dissenters Declare Habeas “Dead in This Country,” Suggest that AEDPA Has Suspended Habeas (May 20, 2011)

Will the California Style Manual Be Entering the Modern Internet Era Any Time Soon?

A tweet from David Lat of Above the Law linking to his inclusion in an example blog citation in The Bluebook raises the following question in my mind: will the California Style Manual, the 4th and most recent edition of which was released 15 years ago, in 2000, be entering the modern era of the Interwebs any time soon?

Blogs barely even existed in 2000. Twitter did not exist at all. The CSM’s discussion of “computer-based sources” in section 3.15, while not totally useless, leaves the reader guessing when it comes to the proper style for citations to a wide range of contemporary sources available online.  I’d still rather use the CSM than the Bluebook, which I can’t stand.  But it might be time for an update!

Related Posts:

Just Because It’s Latin, That Doesn’t Mean It Should be Italicized (Oct. 3, 2012)

People v. Morales: Polygraph Test as Factor Contributing to “Custody” for Miranda Purposes

What effect does it have on a person’s custodial status when they are subjected to a long and aggressive polygraph examination and are repeatedly told they “failed”?   People v. Morales (D067411), published Tuesday by 4/1, concludes that this kind of test can (along with other factors) result in a person being in custody, such that Miranda warnings need to be given for an interrogation.  As the court notes in footnote 8 of the opinion, this appears to be the first published case in California directly addressing this issue.

Polygraphs and Custody: You're free to leave at any time, as long as the machine says you're telling the truth...

This is interesting because the use of the polygraph in Morales is just one of a range of techniques that can be employed to turn the screws on a defendant who is (supposedly) “free to leave.”  Telling a suspect he failed a polygraph is not necessarily any more coercive than lies about evidence, lies about DNA tests, minimization techniques, and so on. And while our courts have concluded that it’s just dandy for police to lie to defendants in interrogations about seemingly critical facts, and that such lies don’t necessarily render confessions involuntary, Morales suggests that these kinds of pseudo-scientific psychological pressures do need to be factored into the question of whether a person is in “custody.”

Morales is also worth a read because of the absurd length and utterly nonsensical (but nevertheless very intimidating) quality of the interaction between the polygraph administrator and the defendant.  It’s a cliche of criminal law writing to suggest that a scenario that played out in a case was “Kafkaesque,” but it’s hard to know what else to say about a situation where a guy is hooked up to a machine spitting out results that may or may not be meaningless and is being told things like:

[Y]ou took the test and it’s not turning out well. If I can, I can change the questions but you have to tell me the truth about everything that happened, do you understand?


“[Defendant]: Yes, I understand you.


“[Heard]: The truth is missing. It’s very important that the truth come out. Where do you want to start? Because there are things that are in your heart that still are not written down on this paper. You have to tell me what the truth is because you have a problem here. When it comes out of here, everything will go well. But it turned out badly because there are still things in your heart that are missing about Jesus [Trejo]. What’s missing?

Perhaps it’s not Kafka that is being channeled here but Colonel Ripper from Dr. Strangelove.  The only thing missing is a monologue about the defendant’s precious bodily fluids.


Was TRED – the Database in the OC Scandal – Unique?

Of the many curious details involved in the still-evolving Orange County jail informant scandal, one that has me particularly intrigued is the way the law enforcement database  involved in that case managed to stay undisclosed for so long.  As R. Scott Moxley wrote in the OC Weekly:

For a quarter of a century, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) operated one of the nation’s longest frauds on the criminal-justice system through a secret, computerized records system called TRED. . . . The few TRED records that have been pried free are a treasure trove of exculpatory evidence hidden from trials that resulted in prosecution victories over hoodwinked defendants. The records also clearly reveal that Southern California law-enforcement officials run a jailhouse-informant program that habitually tramples the constitutional rights of pretrial defendants. . . . [O]utsiders . . .didn’t know TRED existed until recent months, in part because deputies generically referred to the system as “classification records.”

The coverup of the database went beyond these euphemisms.  Judge Thomas Goethals’ March 2015 order cites the testimony of one OC deputy who stated that he was trained from “day one” “never to mention the existence of the TRED records.”

This is interesting and troubling, but does not seem that unusual in the current law enforcement climate.  The Hemisphere surveillance program in which AT&T has partnered with law enforcement was shielded from public scrutiny for years by an explicit policy that the database should never be mentioned (see the Powerpoint slide below).  Which raises the question: how many other TRED-type databases are lurking out there on the hard drives of California law enforcement agencies? Somehow it seems unlikely that this is a unique situation, even if Orange County happens to be in the hot seat for it at the moment.

Hemisphere: The first rule of secret law enforcement databases is, we don't talk about secrete law enforcement databases.


Cal Supremes Grant Review in CPRA case on Legal Invoices and Violence against LA Jail Inmates

A California Public Records Act case pitting the ACLU against Los Angeles County in a battle over legal invoices is heading to the California Supreme Court.  The court granted review last week in Los Angeles County Bd. of Supervisors v. Superior Court (S226645).  The case concerns the ACLU’s efforts to learn how much the county has spent on lawyers to defend against allegations that Sheriff’s deputies have used inappropriate violence against County Jail inmates.

Obviously there are some attorney-client confidentiality issues implicated by that inquiry, but the countervailing interest in access to public information is also weighty.  The ACLU argued that it should be able at least to discover the amounts billed, as long as everything else on the invoices is redacted.   In the underlying opinion in the court of appeal (2/3), the ACLU lost.  We’ll see what happens this time around.

On Suggesting the Prosecution Gain a “Competitive Advantage” by Dumping Data on the Defense in a Cumbersome Format

Check out this 45-second snippet of a June 2015 Cellebrite webinar for prosecutors, in which the Cellebrite spokesman suggests that folks on the law enforcement side can get a “competitive advantage” over the defense by dumping a cumbersome 6,000-page PDF on the defense rather than providing the same information in the considerably-more-user-friendly format that can be parsed with the free UFED reader.

This is annoying, but perhaps it’s not all that surprising either, given who the audience is.  The main thing is that folks on the defense side need to insist on getting forensic documents in a useful format (and also to know enough to know that PDF ain’t the format).  It might not hurt, either, if the Cellebrite folks encouraged law enforcement to be transparent about discovery rather than actively suggesting ways to obfuscate.

Cellebrite: prosecution gets “competitive advantage” by handing over cumbersome pdf from Alex Coolman on Vimeo.

The Real Story Behind the Drop in Wiretaps

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported yesterday that San Diego saw a “drop” in wiretaps in 2014 versus the prior year.  But what’s really going on?  That San Diego trend is consistent with the nationwide pattern in the 2014 wiretap report, which reported a 1% overall decline in wiretaps.

But this seemingly pro-privacy trend is the opposite of what it appears to be.  Law enforcement is not listening less often.  Law enforcement is merely seeking court approval less often, and resorting instead to warrantless, unregulated interception of cell phone traffic via Stingrays. Why would law enforcement bother with a wiretap request if it could use a Stingray to accomplish its goal and never have to deal with a judge?  Best of all, from law enforcement’s perspective, is the fact that defense lawyers can be kept in the dark about the use of the Stingray, making a suppression motion virtually impossible.

Law enforcement is also routinely refusing to release information about the use of Stingrays, the better to head off litigation.  But the litigation is happening anyway, including here in San Diego, because of the obvious concerns that the Fourth Amendment is simply being disregarded.

A related piece of this overall trend is that forensic searches of smartphones have become very common sources of rich information for law enforcement.  Before the SCOTUS Riley decision in June of 2014, no warrant was required to perform such searches, which can reveal location information, text messages, emails, photos, and on and on.  Even in the post-Riley era, our tendency to carry around virtually our entire lives on a smartphone has created substantial new avenues for law enforcement scrutiny — and has, in turn, reduced the need for the police to use wiretaps.

People v. Superior Court (Johnson): What is “Disclosure” of a Police Personnel Record?

Does it amount to “disclosure” of police personnel records for the prosecution merely to review the record, whether or not anything anything is ever handed over to the defense?  That idea is implicit in People v. Superior Court (Johnson) (S221296), published yesterday by the California Supreme Court.  Johnson has to do with whether the prosecution or the defense has the burden of pursuing leads about potential Brady issues in personnel files, and it also has to do with the meaning of Penal Code section 832.7, which says that police personnel records “are confidential and shall not be disclosed in any criminal or civil proceeding.”

The defense in Johnson argued that when prosecutors learn about potential Brady issues in police files, the prosecution has the burden to go review the file and turn over any Brady material.  One component of that argument was that, as the Johnson court summarizes the idea, “prosecutorial review of the records without more would not constitute “ ‘disclos[ure] in any criminal or civil proceeding’ ” of the records under that subdivision.”  This makes sense to me at least at first blush, because the police is part of the prosecution team, and what the police know is imputed to the prosecution in any event under Kyles v. Whitley (1995) 514 U.S. 419.  How can the police “disclose” something to the prosecution that the prosecution is already legally presumed to be aware of?

The California Supreme Court acknowledges this issue on page 14 of the slip opinion, but then appears to conclude that it is implicit in the language of section 832.7 that “disclosure” does indeed occur when the prosecution learns of such records and that the only exception permitting such “disclosure” is the statutory exception for “investigations or proceedings concerning the conduct of peace officers or custodial officers.” Which is dandy if one believes that the statutory wording choices of the California Legislature trump the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, but I’m not sure that’s correct.  Or, to put the point in a less snarky fashion, whatever 832.7 allows or does not allow in terms of “disclosure” can not possibly be the final word on the prosecution’s obligations under Brady, and it seems particularly tenuous to ground such a conclusion on a point that is merely implicit in what the Legislature actually said.

On the other hand, as Jonathan Abel notes in an April 2015 Stanford Law Review article on these issues. the precise contours of the Brady obligation vis a vis police personnel files are actually rather murky and the SCOTUS precedent in this area “provide[s] no definitive answer.”  Abel argues, however, that “wherever the line is drawn on the prosecutor’s duty to learn [about misconduct], the personnel files would seem to be within the prosecutor’s constructive knowledge.  . . . [O]n the spectrum of what the prosecutor has a duty to discover, the police misconduct records are not the borderline case.”

In Johnson, however, California seems to be reaffirming its status as what Abel terms “the poster child” for the most restrictive possible reading of Brady as it relates to police personnel records.


Open Data in California? Mulling SB 272 and Habeas Investigation

EFF notes that a bill, SB 272, is pending in California that would “require local government agencies to publish a list of all the information systems they maintain.”  Which raises my antennae because such a list might provide clues about other areas, particularly in law enforcement, where the public is routinely being kept in the dark.  In particular, Stingrays come to mind.  As EFF points out, “these inventories would serve as a menu of sorts from which the public can request data through a California Public Records Act request.”

SB 272, sponsored by California Senator Robert Hertzberg, does contain language stating that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit public access to records held by an agency to which access is otherwise restricted by statute or to alter the process for requesting public records.”  But “access to records” is not the same thing as disclosure of the very existence of records.  At the moment, merely moving toward disclosure of the existence of data would be a step in the right direction.

Excavating the Heap of Hair-Analysis Convictions

In the wake of the revelation, earlier this year, of widespread flaws in FBI hair analysis, it’s sobering to review the way this sort of evidence has long been treated in California courts.  In People v. Pride (1992) 3 Cal.4th 195, 239, the California Supreme Court said the following:

Garbutt’s method was not “new” when offered at defendant’s 1986 evidentiary hearing and trial. Hair comparison evidence that identifies a suspect or victim as a possible donor has been routinely admitted in California for many years without any suggestion that it is unreliable under Kelly/Frye. (People v. Cooper (1991) 53 Cal.3d 771, 799, 281 Cal.Rptr. 90, 809 P.2d 865; People v. Bonin, (1989) 47 Cal.3d 808, 823, 254 Cal.Rptr. 298, 765 P.2d 460; People v. Wolff (1920) 182 Cal. 728, 738, 190 P. 22; People v. Smith (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1495, 1504, 234 Cal.Rptr. 142; People v. Thomas (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 47, 51, 225 Cal.Rptr. 277; People v. Bowen (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 1020, 1029, 187 Cal.Rptr. 614; People v. De La Plane (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 223, 238, 151 Cal.Rptr. 843; People v. Allen (1974) 41 Cal.App.3d 196, 201 –202, 115 Cal.Rptr. 839.) It would have been anomalous for the court to conclude that Garbutt’s testimony involved an unfamiliar procedure “at this late date.” (People v. Stoll (1989) 49 Cal.3d 1136, 1158, 265 Cal.Rptr. 111, 783 P.2d 698.) No Kelly/Frye showing was necessary, and Garbutt’s qualifications to make such a showing were irrelevant.

Defendant next claims that absent any indication defendant belonged to a “small percentage” of people who could have donated the pubic hair, Garbutt’s trial testimony meant “nothing at all.” However, as noted above, California courts have long assumed that hair comparison evidence of the sort admitted here has some logical bearing on defendant’s commission of the charged crimes. (See, e.g., People v. Cooper, supra, 53 Cal.3d 771, 799, 281 Cal.Rptr. 90, 809 P.2d 865 [Black pubic hair in victim’s vehicle consistent with defendant’s hair]; People v. Bonin, supra, 47 Cal.3d 808, 823, 254 Cal.Rptr. 298, 765 P.2d 460 [foreign hair on victim’s body consistent with defendant’s hair]; People v. Smith, supra, 188 Cal.App.3d 1495, 1504, 234 Cal.Rptr. 142 [foreign hair on victim’s body consistent and inconsistent with defendant’s hair]; People v. Thomas, supra, 180 Cal.App.3d 47, 51, 225 Cal.Rptr. 277 [pubic hair on victim’s bed consistent with defendant’s hair]; People v. Allen, supra, 41 Cal.App.3d 196, 201–202, 115 Cal.Rptr. 839 [hair at crime scene consistent with defendant’s hair].) The court properly rejected defendant’s claim that the evidence was irrelevant and unduly prejudicial.

Plenty of material there to reconsider with a more critical eye.

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