July 23, 2019

Archives for August 18, 2013

Tenth Circuit: Certification of Question of Oklahoma State Law

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published the following Certification of Question of State Law in Walker v. Builddirect.com Technologies on Thursday, August 15, 2013.

Under Tenth Circuit Rule 27.1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit submitted to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma this request that the court exercise its discretion under Okla. Stat. tit. 20, § 1602 (1997), to accept the following certified question of Oklahoma law:

Does a written consumer contract for the sale of goods incorporate by reference a separate document entitled “Terms of Sale” available on the seller’s website, when the contract states that it is “subject to” the seller’s “‘Terms of Sale’” but does not specifically reference the website?

Tenth Circuit: First Degree Murder Conviction and Death Penalty Sentence Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Grant v. Trammell on Thursday, August 15, 2013.

While serving a sentence in Oklahoma state prison for a series of armed robberies, John Grant won a job as a kitchen worker. The job brought him under the supervision of Gay Carter, a civilian prison employee. Mr. Grant was fired after he was caught fighting with another inmate. He came to bear a grudge against Ms. Carter. One day after breakfast, he lingered in the dining hall. After ten or fifteen minutes, Mr. Grant grabbed Ms. Carter, put a hand over her mouth, and dragged her into a small closet. With a shank he had secreted into the dining hall, Mr. Grant stabbed and murdered Ms. Carter.

The State of Oklahoma charged Mr. Grant with first degree murder and sought the death penalty. The jury found Mr. Grant guilty as charged. At the penalty phase, the jury voted to impose the death penalty. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) denied relief on appeal. Mr. Grant then filed a habeas petition in federal court but the district court denied relief, too.

The district court did, however, issue Mr. Grant a certificate of appealability that allowed him to bring his case to the Tenth Circuit. Ultimately, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the courts that had come before it and held none of the grounds discussed below warranted relief.

First, the court held that the guilt phase jury instructions satisfied the demands of federal due process doctrine. Mr. Grant argued that the state court should have given the jury the option of finding him guilty the lesser included — and noncapital — offenses of first degree manslaughter and second degree murder. But Mr. Grant never asked for a lesser included jury instruction at trial as required by Hooks v. Ward, 184 F.3d 1206 (10th Cir. 1999). The evidence adduced at trial could not rationally support a verdict for either first degree manslaughter or second degree murder in any event. The court was mindful of the limits of its authority as a federal court reviewing the work of a state court as to the establishment of a manslaughter or second degree murder charge.

Second, during the penalty phase, the government introduced two victim impact statements. Both statements concluded by asking the jury to impose the death penalty, which was plainly erroneous as a matter of federal law. However, the Tenth Circuit could not say the error was sufficient to warrant reversal. To reverse, the court had to be able to say that the error had a “substantial and injurious effect,” one leaving the court with a “‘grave doubt’ about the effect of the error on the jury’s verdict.”

Third, Mr. Grant charged his trial lawyer with doing a poor job of investigating and presenting evidence about his family background at the penalty phase. To prevail on a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, a defendant must show both that (1) counsel “committed serious errors in light of ‘prevailing professional norms’ such that his legal representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness,” and (2) there is “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Wackerly v. Workman, 580 F.3d 1171, 1176 (10th Cir. 2009). In Oklahoma’s, where only a unanimous jury may impose the death penalty, the question was whether it was reasonably probable that at least one juror would have struck a different balance. In the end, the court did not question that the evidence Mr. Grant said his lawyer should have presented bore some mitigating effect. But in light of the Supreme Court’s holdings and the Tenth Circuit’s past holdings, the court could not say it was unreasonable for the OCCA to hold that Mr. Grant’s case fell on the side where the potential mitigating impact of the unproduced evidence might have been “conceivable” but not “substantial” enough to think it would have altered the outcome. Neither could the court say that any of the factual determinations underlying the OCCA’s conclusion on Strickland’s prejudice prong were more than just debatable.

That left the court with Mr. Grant’s complaint that, even if the errors he identified did not warrant reversal individually, they did when considered cumulatively. Mr. Grant’s only argument on this score, however, was that “this Court should consider the synergistic effect of all the errors and grant Mr. Grant relief.” The court stated that such a perfunctory assertion fell well short of what was needed to overturn a judgment, let alone one as long-settled and repeatedly reviewed as this one. The court went on to state that even a capital defendant can waive an argument by inadequately briefing an issue. Even if, the court stated, it were to overlook the deficiency of the argument and try to develop a cumulative error theory for Mr. Grant, it would still fail to find enough to reverse.


Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/15/13

On Thursday, August 15, 2013, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and three unpublished opinions.

Decker v. Roberts

Singleton v. Plough

United States v. Munoz-Pena

No case summaries are provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/13/13

On Tuesday, August 13, 2013, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and seven unpublished opinions.

McCafferty v. Preiss Enterprises

Nyanjom v. Hawker Beechcraft

Moore v. McKune

Reddick v. Commissioner

Rana v. Holder

Korban v. Boostpower

United States v. Stanley

No case summaries are provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.