« Senators Durbin and Grassley introduce new "First Step Implementation Act" | Main | Still considering cert, SCOTUS orders additional letter briefing in method-of-execution case out of Missouri »

March 29, 2021

SCOTUS summarily reverses Sixth Circuit's reversal of state conviction based on ineffective assistance

The Supreme Court generally does not view itself as in the business of error correction, but it still sometimes finds a few criminal cases in which it just cannot resist fixing what looks like an incorrect ruling below.  Today's order list, for example, brings a per curiam summary reversal in Mays v. Hines, No. 20–507 (S. Ct. Mar. 29, 2021) (available here), in which the Court corrects the work of the Sixth Circuit via an eight-page opinion that starts and ends this way:

A Tennessee jury found Anthony Hines guilty of murdering Katherine Jenkins at a motel.  Witnesses saw Hines fleeing in the victim’s car and wearing a bloody shirt, and his family members heard him admit to stabbing someone at the motel.  But almost 35 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that Hines was entitled to a new trial and sentence because his attorney should have tried harder to blame another man.  In reaching its conclusion, the Sixth Circuit disregarded the overwhelming evidence of guilt that supported the contrary conclusion of a Tennessee court.  This approach plainly violated Congress’ prohibition on disturbing state-court judgments on federal habeas review absent an error that lies “‘beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement.’” Shinn v. Kayer, 592 U.S. ___, ___ (2020) (per curiam) (slip op., at 1); 28 U.S.C. §2254(d).  We now reverse....

The Sixth Circuit had no reason to revisit the decision of the Tennessee court, much less ignore the ample evidence supporting that court’s conclusion.  We grant the petition for a writ of certiorari and respondent’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Notably, Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from this per curiam ruling, but without any opinion, so this was technically an 8-1 error correction.

March 29, 2021 at 10:20 AM | Permalink


Well Breyer and Kagan may have just stayed silent. The court smuggled a new opinion writing requirement for federal courts granting habeas relief 2254(d) in this shadow docket sleeper, and I doubt that had nine votes.

Posted by: Frustrated habeas 4 oldham | Mar 30, 2021 6:48:29 AM

I am not seeing a new opinion writing requirement in the per curiam opinion. Most federal judges granting or denying habeas relief do an opinion. In any case, in reversing the denial of the petition by the District judge, the Sixth Circuit did apparently write an opinion. "Nowhere in its 10-page discussion of Hines’ theory did the majority consider the substantial evidence linking him to the crime." To the extent that there is a requirement in the per curiam opinion, it is that, if you do write an opinion, it better comply with AEDPA and Strickland.

And technically, this was not a shadow docket decision but a summary reversal on the merits. My understanding is that on a merits opinion any dissents are noted. So the vote was apparently 8-1.

Posted by: tmm | Mar 31, 2021 3:19:47 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB