SCOTUS Reverses Sixth Circuit Ruling on Ineffective Assistance Based on AEDPA Deference

On January 12, the Court issued its decision in Smith v. Spisak, No. 08-724. Justice Breyer wrote the opinion, which seven other Justices joined in full; Justice Stevens concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. Reversing the Sixth Circuit, the Court held that Ohio’s denial of Spisak’s underlying criminal appeal was reasonable. In the habeas corpus action, Spisak argued that (1) the jury instructions used at his trial unconstitutionally required the jury to consider mitigating factors only if the existence of each factor was unanimously found; and (2) his attorney was constitutionally ineffective, particularly during his closing argument – was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. As previously noted on this blog, the Supreme Court has taken a number of Michigan habeas corpus cases involving AEDPA deference including Berghuis v Smith (to be argued in two days). Many have wondered whether the Supreme Court has taken these cases to sending a warning to the Sixth Circuit Court about the probing level of its rulings. Justice Breyer’s authorship of the Court’s opinion is a tad disconcerting. Stay Tuned.