California habeas corpus petition was filed, Darren Chaker blogs about where the Ninth Circuit decided a Defendant is not entitled to federal habeas relief where state court finding that he did not unequivocally invoke his right to an attorney, was not an unreasonable application of federal law. In 1999 Sessoms and two others committed a homicide during a Sacramento robbery. He fled to Oklahoma City, where he was arrested. Sacramento police traveled to Oklahoma City to interrogate him. Before receiving Miranda warnings, Sessoms asked whether there was any possible way he could have a lawyer present. He said his father told him to get a lawyer. The police affirmed he had a right to counsel and read him his rights. Sessoms thereafter confessed. The state appellate courts affirmed the trial court’s denial of Sessoms’ motion to suppress his statement, finding neither of Sessoms’ statements were sufficiently clear such that a reasonable officer would understand he was requesting counsel. He was convicted of murder.
AEDPA limits the federal court’s review of state court opinions. Under 28 U.S.C. section 2254(d), a writ of habeas corpus will only be granted where the state court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of,” Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, or where it is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The Ninth Circuit noted that neither party challenged the state court’s use of the legal standard set forth in Davis v. U.S. (1994) 512 U.S. 452, to determine whether Sessoms invoked his right to counsel. The court found that Davis was limited to postwaiver statements and is therefore not “clearly established Federal law” in Sessoms’ case. Without Davis, the court was unable to locate any Supreme Court precedent for determining whether Sessoms invoked his right to counsel in a prewaiver contest. It therefore evaluated the claim under the Edwards v.Arizona (1981) 451 U.S. 477, standard — that an accused must have “actually invoked his right to counsel.”
Although Sessoms’ statements raise a close question under Edwards, the state court finding did not constitute an error “well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-mind disagreement” as required by AEDPA. Further, officers were not required to ask clarifying questions before proceeding with their interrogation. There is no Supreme Court authority requiring such action and Sessoms’ reliance on federal law to that effect is unavailing. State courts are not bound under AEDPA by federal cases other than precedent established by the Supreme Court.