Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pinholster limits availability of discovery to federal habeas applicants

Hurst v. Branker, No. 1:10CV725, 2011 WL 2149470 (M.D.N.C. June 1, 2011):

"Unlike other civil litigants, a § 2254 habeas petitioner 'is not entitled to discovery as a matter of ordinary course.'"   Stephens v. Branker, 570 F.3d 198, 213 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899, 904 (1997)), cert. denied, 130 S. Ct. 1073 (2010). Instead, to conduct discovery, a habeas petitioner "must provide reasons for the request," Rule 6(b), Rules Governing Sect. 2254 Proceedings, that establish "good cause," Rule 6(a), Rules Governing Sect. 2254 Proceedings. "A showing of good cause must include specific allegations suggesting that the petitioner will be able to demonstrate that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief." Stephens, 570 F.3d at 204.

Moreover, the United States Supreme Court recently made clear that, "[a]lthough state prisoners may sometimes submit new evidence in federal court, [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996's (the "AEDPA's")] statutory scheme [as codified in § 2254] is designed to strongly discourage them from doing so." Pinholster v. Cullen, 131 S.Ct. at 1401 (emphasis added).

Under Pinholster v. Cullen, any new evidence unearthed during discovery in federal court and "later introduced in federal court is irrelevant to § 2254(d)(1) [and (2)] review." In other words, if the state trial court adjudicated Claim I of Petitioner's Motion for Appropriate Relief on the merits, such that Petitioner must satisfy the terms of § 2254(d), "good cause" does not exist for the discovery Petitioner seeks (at least prior to the analysis required under § 2254(d)), because this Court may look only to the state court record in applying § 2254(d).

Even if this Court ultimately determined that the state court's determination of Claim I fell short under § 2254(d), it could grant Petitioner relief only after applying the harmless error analysis set forth in Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623 (1993). See Bauberger v. Haynes, 632 F.3d 100, 103–05 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing, inter alia, Fullwood v. Lee, 290 F.3d 663, 678–83 (4th Cir. 2002)). Conceivably, after Cullen, the Court could look outside the state court record to perform that function, provided Petitioner satisfied the requirements of § 2254(e)(2). See generally Hearn v. Ryan, No. CV–08–448–PHXMHM, 2011 WL 1526912 (D. Ariz. Apr. 21, 2011).

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