June 26, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Petitioner Convicted of Rape and Murder in 1982 Failed to Meet His Burden in Conditional Habeas Corpus Petition

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Case v. Hatch on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

This appeal arises from a crime committed over thirty years ago—the rape and murder of a teenager outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Several young men were convicted of the crime, including Petitioner Carl Case. Those convictions were upheld by the state courts in New Mexico both on direct and collateral review, and Case’s first habeas petition in federal court was denied.

In 2008, Case filed an application for permission to file a second habeas petition. He claimed constitutional error occurred at trial based on the discovery of new and previously undisclosed evidence involving a trial witness, and the recantation of trial testimony by two prosecution witnesses nearly twenty years after the trial. The Court concluded Case had made a prima facie case showing that certain recantations qualified as “newly-discovered evidence under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B)(i)” and that Case had sufficiently alleged a constitutional Brady error.

The magistrate judge concluded that Case failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that, but for constitutional error, no reasonable fact-finder would have found Case guilty. Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended the petition be dismissed. After receiving this recommendation, the district court instead held an evidentiary hearing. The district court found the recantations credible, determined that a constitutional Brady error occurred at Case’s trial, and ruled that Case satisfied the procedural hurdle erected by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B) (AEDPA). The district court found the state court failed to holistically evaluate the impact of the evidence and improperly used an abuse of discretion standard when evaluating Case’s Brady claim. The district court granted Case the conditional writ of habeas corpus at issue.

28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) provides that a successive habeas corpus application shall be dismissed unless the two gate-keeping requirements are met. The first gate requires the petitioner make a prima facie showing that no reasonable fact-finder would have found Case guilty but for constitutional error at trial. The second gate requires the petitioner to back up the prima facie showing with actual evidence to show he can meet this standard. In sum, once a petitioner makes a prima facie showing, he still must pass through the second gate erected by § 2244.

Here, Case successfully identified a Brady violation, so he met the requirements of the first gate. The Tenth Circuit then had to determine whether the newly discovered evidence, based on the record as a whole, would have led every reasonable juror to a conclusion of “not guilty.”

To pass through the second jurisdictional gate, Case was required to show two things. One was that the factual predicate for his Brady claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence. Case was then required to show “the facts underlying the Brady claim, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that, but for constitutional error, no reasonable fact-finder would have found him guilty of the underlying offense.” Id. § 2244(b)(2)(B)(ii).

Petitioner failed to meet his burden. Looking to the evidence the jury heard at trial, Case’s arguments did not meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable fact-finder would have found him guilty of the underlying offense. Case failed to pass through the second § 2244 gateway, which would have allowed the Tenth Circuit to consider the merits of his application.

The district court’s conditional grant of habeas relief was VACATED, and REMANDED for the court to DISMISS for lack of jurisdiction.

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