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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In Howard A. Allen Jr. v. Buss (SD Ind., Judge Tinder), a 27 page opinion, Judge Williams writes:

In 1988, consistent with a jury’s verdict and sentencing recommendation, the Marion Superior Court in Indiana sentenced Howard A. Allen, Jr. to death by lethal injection for the murder and robbery of Ernestine Griffin. Since then, Allen has been asking the Indiana state courts to consider his claim that he is mentally retarded and therefore should not be executed. First, he sought relief when Indiana banned the execution of mentally retarded persons in 1994, but the Indiana courts held that the new statute did not apply retroactively to Allen. Instead, the state trial court, without holding a hearing, considered his mental retardation as a mitigating factor and found it did not outweigh the aggravating circumstance of his crime. In 2002, after the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), which categorically banned the execution of the mentally retarded, Allen again sought relief from his execution. But the Indiana Supreme Court determined that because Allen had already litigated his claim that he was mentally retarded as a mitigating circumstance, he would not be allowed to relitigate his Atkins claim. We think this decision is contrary to the Supreme Court’s holding in Atkins, which recognized that there is a difference between using mental retardation as a mitigating factor and categorically excluding mentally retarded persons from the death penalty altogether. Because Allen has presented evidence that he is mentally retarded, we vacate the district court’s denial of Allen’s habeas petition and remand the case to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to address whether Allen is mentally retarded under Indiana law.

In light of our standard of review on habeas claims, we reject Allen’s remaining two arguments. Allen maintains, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), that he should have received a new penalty phase hearing before a jury and that the sentencing court ignored some of his mitigating evidence. Because Allen did not raise the first argument in the Indiana courts, we find that he procedurally defaulted this claim, which precludes us from reaching its merits. As to his claim regarding mitigating evidence, the sentencing court’s order does not make clear that it ignored Allen’s evidence rather than choosing to give it little weight so we are constrained by the Indiana Supreme Court’s finding that the trial court considered the evidence, which is not objectively unreasonable. Allen also claims that his statements were taken in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and were improperly admitted at trial. However, he fails to establish that the state court’s adjudication of his Miranda claims resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent, or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2). For these reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court on Allen’s Eddings and Miranda claims. * * *

The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED in part. We REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 11, 2009 11:18 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions