Liao v. Junious

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 01-29-2016
  • Case #: 14-55897
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Trott for the Court; Circuit Judge Pregerson and Senior District Judge Stafford
  • Full Text Opinion

Failure of counsel to secure medical evidence supporting the petitioner’s defense constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.

Yun Liao was convicted of assaulting and attempting with premeditation to kill his ex-girlfriend’s son in 2003. While the boy was sleeping, Liao allegedly hit the boy with a hammer three times in the head. Liao’s unsuccessful defense had been that he was sleep walking during the incident, and therefore he lacked the intent required for the crime. The court had sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility for parole, plus four years. Liao was let out of prison on parole twelve years later. Because of newly discovered evidence, Liao’s case was returned to the Superior Court for further proceedings on the claim of ineffectiveness of counsel. The Superior Court concluded that the trial counsel’s performance was indeed defective because he failed to secure medical evidence to support his primary expert’s opinion on sleepwalking. However, the Superior Court found that counsel’s failure was not prejudicial. Liao filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Central District of California, claiming his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel had been violated. The district court denied Liao’s petition, and he appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed that during the trial Liao was prejudiced by the absence of a sleep study and additional information sought by the expert Dr. Kushida. The panel found that the evidence of the sleep study along with Dr. Kushida’s opinion was based on objective criteria that was direct medical evidence leading to prove the validity of Liao’s defense. The panel therefore concluded that the Superior Court’s fact-based decision that Liao suffered no prejudice was incorrect, and reversed and remanded the decision with instructions to grant a writ of habeas corpus. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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