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Knowles v. Mirzayance

Docket No.: 07-1315
Certiorari Granted: Jun 27 2008
Argued: January 13, 2009
Decided: March 24, 2009

PartyNames: Michael A. Knowles, Warden v. Alexandre Mirzayance
Petitioner: Michael A. Knowles, Warden
Respondent: Alexandre Mirzayance

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Michael A. Knowles, Warden
v.
Alexandre Mirzayance
Background:

Concluding that defense counsel was ineffective in advising petitioner to withdraw his not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted habeas relief to petitioner without analyzing the state-court adjudication deferentially under "clearly established" law as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) and by supplanting the district court's factual findings and credibility determinations with its own, opposite factual findings. This Court vacated the Ninth Circuit decision and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct. 649 (2006). On remand, the Ninth Circuit conceded that "no Supreme Court case has specifically addressed a counsel's failure to advance the defendant's only affirmative defense" but nonetheless concluded that its original decision was "unaffected" by Musladin and subsequent § 2254(d) decisions of this Court.

Question Presented:

1. Did the Ninth Circuit again exceed its authority under § 2254(d) by granting habeas relief without considering whether the state-court adjudication of the claim was "unreasonable" under "clearly established Federal law" based on its previous conclusion that trial counsel was required to proceed with an affirmative insanity defense because it was the only defense available and despite the absence of a Supreme Court decision addressing the point? 2. May a federal appellate court substitute its own factual findings and credibility determinations for those of a district court without determining whether the district court's findings were "clearly erroneous? "

Question:

1) Did the Ninth Circuit exceed it authority by granting habeas corpus relief without considering whether state court adjudication of Mr. Mirzayance's claim was "unreasonable" under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254(d)? 2) May a federal appellate court substitute factual findings of the district court without determining whether the district court's findings were "clearly erroneous?"

Holding: reversed and remanded
Vote: 9-0
Opinion By: Justice Clarence Thomas
Read KNOWLES V. MIRZAYANCE opinion (PDF)
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