Turning back once more to the topic of petitions for writ of habeas corpus, if a court determines that all the procedural requirements have been met, the court may then proceed to review the merits of the petition. Under section 2254(d) (1)-(2), the petition shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court, unless the adjudication “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or, “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”
The Eleventh Circuit opinion of Childers v. Floyd, No. 08-15590, 2011 WL 2162083 (11th Cir. June 2, 2011), illustrates how difficult it can be to prevail on the merits of a habeas petition. In 2001, while Childers had been serving as a County Commissioner for Escambia County, Childers and a fellow County Commissioner, Willie Junior, became involved in a kick-back scheme relating to the construction of a soccer complex owned by one Joe Elliot. Junior entered a plea agreement with the State, and testified against Childers at Childers’ trial. After Childers was convicted of bribery and unlawful compensation for official behavior, Childers was sentenced to 42 months’ incarceration. Elliot was acquitted. See Childers, 2011 WL 2162083 at *1-*6
Childers moved for a new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in part by violating his 6th Amendment confrontation rights. The trial court disagreed, and Childers pursued his 6th Amendment claim through direct appeal and in his petition for writ of habeas corpus. Even though Childers initially won a victory in his appeal to the Eleventh, the Court voted to rehear the case en banc, and ultimately affirmed the district court’s denial of Childers’ petition. See Childers, 2011 WL 2162083 at *9-10. In its rationale, the Court emphasized the long-standing principles of comity, and determined that the state court had properly adjudicated Childers’ claim on the merits. See Childers, 2001 WL 2162083 at *10-*13. Proceeding to the merits of the petition, the Court recalled the parameters of review under section 2254(d)(1), as well as the highly deferential review of state court factual findings. See Childers, 2001 WL 2162083 at *13-*21. After analyzing Childers’ claims in light of the “multiple layers of deference owed to the state court’s determination,” 2011 WL 2162083 at *22, the Court ultimately found that Childers was not entitled to habeas relief because Childers failed to show that the District Court of Appeal unreasonably applied federal law, or that the decision was contrary to clearly established federal law.
People should take two things away from the Childers opinion. First, while prevailing on a petition for habeas corpus in the Eleventh Circuit is extremely difficult, it is possible. Unfortunately, any victory may be short-lived.