In Parker v. Matthews, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-845.pdf, Petitioner broke into his estranged wife's home, shot and killed her mother, had sex with the wife and then shot and killed her too. Presented extreme emotional distress defense, on which Commonwealth had burden of proof under Kentucky law, based on expert testimony on his intoxication and adjustment disorder. The Sixth Circuit granted habeas relief because the state court had impermissibly shifted the burden of proving EED to the defense and the CW had failed to disprove it. Circuit also found due process violation in prosecutor's closing argument that the petitioner colluded with his lawyer and his expert to concoct the defense.
SCOTUS, reverses in a per curiam decision. Erasing any doubts that the "double deference" concept applies beyond the IAC context, the Court faults the 6th Circuit for reading the Kentucky Supreme Court opinion as burden-shifting. While there were some portions of the opinion that tended that way, it is "not clear" that they formed the "sole basis" for the opinion because there were some other (rather cursory) sentences that were not burden shifting. "That ground was sufficient to reject Matthews' claim, so it is irrelevant that the court also invoked a ground of questionable validity." The Court also rejects the Circuit's further conclusion that "the evidence supported a finding of no extreme emotional disturbance." The conclusion could not survive "twice-deferential" review required by deference to the jury and by AEDPA.
On the prosecutorial misconduct point, the Court acknowledges that the prosecutor seemed to be arguing that the EED defense was cooked up, but faults the Circuit for not considering immediately following language in which the prosecutor disclaimed what he had just argued, insisting that he wasn't suggesting that the lawyer was unetheical or that the doctor was perjuring himself. (The prosecutor's technique was straight out of Cassius's speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which we studied in 8th grade ("Brutus is an honorable man.").) Because the Darden v. Wainwright standard for prosecutorial misconduct is very general, petitioner has failed to establish that the state court violated clearly established federal law.
Finally, the Court faults the Circuit for employing its own four-part test to the Darden error. It is only allowed to use Supreme Court precedents, not its own, in applying AEDPA's 2254(d).
Claudia VanWyk, EDPA, Capital Habeas Unit