Wilson v. Sellers

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: February 27, 2017
  • Case #: 16-6855
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Wilson v. Warden, 834 F.3d 1227 (11th Cir. 2016)
  • Full Text Opinion

“Whether the court's decision in Harrington v. Richter silently abrogates the presumption set forth in Ylst v. Nunnemaker – that a federal court sitting in habeas proceedings should “look through” a summary state court ruling to review the last reasoned decision – as a slim majority of the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held in this case, despite the agreement of both parties that the Ylst presumption should continue to apply?”

Petitioner was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and possession of a sawed-off shotgun in 1997. During the sentencing stage, the jury did not hear Petitioner’s compelling mitigation defense and was sentenced to death. In 2010, Petitioner filed a federal habeas petition in the District court. The court granted a certificate of appealability limited to the effectiveness of counsel during the penalty phase, but denied the habeas petition for relief. In 2014, the Eleventh Circuit panel affirmed the District Court’s denial of habeas relief. Although the panel identified issues with the last state court decision, the state denial of habeas, the panel believed the only important Georgia state court decision was the one sentence summary denial of CPC, because it was the final decision on the merits.  The Eleventh Circuit Panel thus engaged in a Harrington v. Richter (2011), analysis, asking “was any reasonable basis for the [Supreme Court of Georgia] to deny relief.” The panel used its own reasons for the Georgia Supreme Court’s summary denial of CPC, instead of relying on the reasons set forth by the Georgia Supreme Court. Petitioner argues this is contrary to the “look through” analysis set forth by Ylst v. Nunnemaker (1991) and Johnson v. Williams (2013), which requires the federal courts to look through the last state court decision to find a specific reason for the state court’s ruling. Further, had the panel followed the proper Ylst analysis, the panel would have had to address the State’s unreasonable findings and potentially could have led to a different result. 

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