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9th Circuit Reluctantly Affirms Habeas Corpus Denial Due to AEDPA

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Let's say you were just locked in the back of a squad car for 30 minutes while your home was searched in connection with a murder investigation. An officer says, "Hey buddy. Care to go to the station to voluntarily answer some questions? You aren't under arrest. You can totally refuse. You just can't go home yet because we're still digging through your stuff." (Paraphrasing, obviously).

And it's midnight. And you are a young lady in Fresno.

Once you get to the station, 30 minutes away from your home, and are interrogated for two hours, you are allowed to wander freely to the bathroom and back. Nearly two hours, many murder accusations, and one more bathroom break later, the interrogation is over. And you are under arrest. Were your statements really voluntary?

It's enough to give one pause, at least. Unfortunately for convicted murderer Stacey Dyer, it isn't enough to overturn a state court ruling affirming the admittance of the statements via habeas corpus.

The majority, and even more passionately, the concurrence, each express a bit of disagreement with the state court's ruling. Judge Smith takes it even further with the concurrence - stating that the state court was wrong, and he would have required Miranda warnings had the case been on direct appeal, but his hands were tied.

What binds the hands of these three judges?

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which states that a federal court may not grand an application for a writ of habeas corpus "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" unless the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."

That's a heck of a standard to meet, and according to the Ninth Circuit, Dyer failed. Because she was told before the interrogation that she was not under arrest, not yet in trouble, and free to leave at any time, and because she was given free roam of the police station and physically could have walked out at any time, especially when she took unattended trips to the restroom, a "fair-minded jurist" could find, on this record, that Dyer was not in custody for purposes of Miranda.

Even though she was locked in a squad car before being brought in.

Even though she was accused of heinous crimes by her interrogators.

Even though she was "free to leave" the police station in the middle of the night in Fresno with no way of getting home.

Even though the three judges on this panel probably would have decided differently.

Such is the nature of the great deference afforded to state courts' decisions by the AEDPA.

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