Thursday, February 9, 2012

The end does not justify the means

We are not impressed by the argument that law enforcement methods such as those under review are necessary to uphold our laws. The Constitution proscribes such lawless means irrespective of the end. And this argument flouts the basic principle that all people must stand on an equality before the bar of justice in every American court. Today, as in ages past, we are not without tragic proof that the exalted power of some governments to punish manufactured crime dictatorially is the handmaid of tyranny. Under our constitutional system, courts stand against any winds that blow as havens of refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered, or because they are non-conforming victims of prejudice and public excitement. Due process of law, preserved for all by our Constitution, commands that no such practice as that disclosed by this record shall send any accused to his death. No higher duty, no more solemn responsibility, rests upon this Court, than that of translating into living law and maintaining this constitutional shield deliberately planned and inscribed for the benefit of every human being subject to our Constitution -- of whatever race, creed or persuasion.

Justice Black in Chambers v. Florida(1940) 309 U.S. 227.

Fact-finding infected with bias...

As noted, intrinsic challenges to state-court findings pursuant to the "unreasonable determination" standard come in several flavors, each presenting its own peculiar set of considerations. No doubt the simplest is the situation where the state court should have made a finding of fact but neglected to do so. In that situation, the state-court factual determination is perforce unreasonable and there is nothing to which the presumption of correctness [*1001] can attach. See, e.g., Wiggins, 123 S. Ct. at 2539-40; Killian v. Poole, 282 F.3d 1204, 1208 (9th Cir. 2002); Weaver, 197 F.3d at 363; Nunes, 350 F.3d at 1055. A somewhat different set of considerations applies where the state court does make factual findings, but does so under a misapprehension as to the correct legal standard. See, e.g., Caliendo v. Warden, 365 F.3d 691, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 6416, 2004 WL 720362, at *6 (9th Cir. Apr. 5, 2004); Fernandez v. Roe, 286 F.3d 1073, 1077 (9th Cir. 2002); Wade v. Terhune, 202 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th Cir. 2000). Obviously, where the state court's legal error infects the fact-finding process, the resulting factual determination will be unreasonable and no presumption of correctness can attach to it.

Closely related to cases where the state courts make factual findings infected by substantive [**17] legal error are those where the fact-finding process itself is defective. If, for example, a state court makes evidentiary findings without holding a hearing and giving petitioner an opportunity to present evidence, such findings clearly result in an "unreasonable determination" of the facts. See, e.g., Weaver, 197 F.3d at 363; Nunes, 350 F.3d at 1055; cf. Bryan v. Mullin, 335 F.3d 1207, 1215-16 (10th Cir. 2003) (declining to apply presumption where state court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing). But see Valdez, 274 F.3d at 948-50 (sections 2254(d)(2) and (e)(1) apply despite defects in the state-court hearing). Similarly, where the state courts plainly misapprehend or misstate the record in making their findings, and the misapprehension goes to a material factual issue that is central to petitioner's claim, that misapprehension can fatally undermine the fact-finding process, rendering the resulting factual finding unreasonable. See, e.g., Wiggins, 123 S. Ct. at 2538-39; Hall, 343 F.3d at 983. And, as the Supreme Court noted in Miller-El, the state-court fact-finding [**18] process is undermined where the state court has before it, yet apparently ignores, evidence that supports petitioner's claim. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 346 ("Our concerns are amplified by the fact that the state court also had before it, and apparently ignored, testimony demonstrating that the Dallas County District Attorney's Office had, by its own admission, used this process to manipulate the racial composition of the jury in the past."); accord Collins v. Rice, 348 F.3d 1082, 1097 (9th Cir. 2003), as amended and superseded on denial of reh'g by 365 F.3d 667, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 6780, 2004 WL 743723 (9th Cir. Apr. 8, 2004).


In instructing jurors about their fact-finding function, we normally advise them to consider the entire record, not individual pieces of evidence standing alone. See United States v. Bertoli, 40 F.3d 1384, 1401 (3d Cir. 1994); United States v. Betancourt, 838 F.2d 168, 175 (6th Cir. 1988); United States v. Minyard, 461 F.2d 931, 934 (9th Cir. 1972); Kearney v. Bell, 160 Cal. 661, 668-69, 117 P. 925 (1911); Breuner Co. v. Allred, 98 Cal. App. 92, 96, 276 P. 422 (Ct. App. 1929); see, e.g., CALJIC 2.50.2 ("You should consider all of the evidence bearing upon every issue . . . ."); CALJIC 8.84.1 ("Both the People and the defendant have a right to expect that you will consider all of the evidence . . . ."). This reflects the philosophy of our common-law fact-finding process, namely, that the various pieces of evidence and testimony in the record must be considered in light of all the others. Testimony may seem implausible standing alone, yet gain considerable force when confirmed in a material respect by an independent source or by an objectively verifiable fact. Similarly, testimony may seem highly plausible, [**36] yet be discredited when it is shown to be irreconcilably in conflict with other evidence. Fact-finding is thus a dynamic, holistic process that presupposes for its legitimacy that the trier of fact will take into account the entire record before it.

What goes for juries goes no less for judges. In making findings, a judge must acknowledge significant portions of the record, particularly where they are inconsistent with the judge's findings. The process of explaining and reconciling seemingly inconsistent parts of the record lays bare the judicial thinking process, enabling a reviewing court to judge the rationality of the fact-finder's reasoning. On [*1008] occasion, an effort to explain what turns out to be un-explainable will cause the finder of fact to change his mind. By contrast, failure to take into account and reconcile key parts of the record casts doubt on the process by which the finding was reached, and hence on the correctness of the finding. See, e.g., Gui v. INS, 280 F.3d 1217, 1228 (9th Cir. 2002) (failure of immigration judge to support adverse credibility finding with specific, cogent reasons constituted grounds for reversal); Winans v. Bowen, 853 F.2d 643, 647 (9th Cir. 1988) [**37] (failure of ALJ to give specific reasons for ignoring treating physician's opinion constitutes grounds for reversal).

Taylor v. Maddox (9th Cir. 2004) 366 F.3d 992