Zapata v. Vasquez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 06-09-2015
  • Case #: 12-17503
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

In order to demonstrate ineffective counsel on habeas review, a defendant must demonstrate (1) the performance by the defendant’s attorney was deficient, (2) the performance prejudiced the defendant’s defense, and (3) that the state court’s application of these standards were unreasonable.

Paul Zapata was convicted of murder with enhancements for committing an offense for the benefit of a criminal street gang, and personally discharging a firearm in the course of the offense. After his appeals were denied by the the state court, Zapata filed a habeas claim in federal district court. Zapata argued ineffective counsel by his trial attorney for failing to object to the prosecutor’s false, inflammatory, and ethnically charged comments during closing arguments. The district court denied relief, and Zapata appealed. The Ninth Circuit explained that on habeas review, in order to demonstrate ineffective counsel, a defendant must demonstrate that his attorney’s performance was deficient, that the performance prejudiced his defense, and that the state court’s application of these standards were unreasonable. The panel concluded that the state court unreasonably determined that the performance by Zapata’s attorney was not deficient, and that Zapata was not prejudiced as a consequence. The panel reasoned that Zapata’s attorney’s performance was deficient because he failed to object to the prosecutor’s misconduct,and that the state court’s determination was unreasonable because of the weakness of the case and the severity of the misconduct. The panel highlighted various reasons why Zapata was prejudiced as a consequence of deficient counsel, such as how the evidence of guilt was weak, and the importance and timing of the unreasonably inferred comments. The panel therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the case with instructions to grant Zapata habeas corpus relief. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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