Without dissent, the United States Supreme Court has once again summarily reversed
the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. "Summarily" means the error was so obvious that the high court could reverse on the state's petition alone, without setting the case for full briefing and argument.
The rule in the federal courts and every state is that a criminal defendant who can make a claim on his initial appeal on the trial record must do so or lose it. He can't wait for a subsequent "collateral" attack (habeas corpus or a substitute for it) to make such a claim. The technical term for rules such as this is "procedural default," but it may be more easily understood as the "speak now or forever hold your peace rule." There are generally exceptions to mitigate the harshness of these rules. For example, a strong showing of actual innocence of the crime is an exception in both federal and California courts.
When a state prisoner has completed his state appeals and seeks relief in federal courts, Supreme Court precedent has long required the federal court to respect the state's procedural default rules. For many years, the Ninth Circuit has evaded this requirement for California prisoners by blithely declaring the state's rules "inadequate." In 2011, the Supreme Court reversed one such evasion in Walker v. Martin
, a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg. The language was broad enough to fully restore California's rules and we thought that battle was won. Astonishingly, the Ninth Circuit brushed Martin
aside, held that it only applied to the kind of rule specifically at issue in that case, and declared that it did not apply to California's much more common default-on-appeal rule described in the previous paragraph.
I thought that was a shocking -- and intentional -- evasion of controlling Supreme Court precedent by a lower court that simply did not like the result.
Today we learned that the Supreme Court thinks so, too.