Can a state prisoner challenge his or her conviction in a federal court?

September 12, 2023

A state prisoner can file a habeas corpus petition in federal district court to challenge his or her conviction.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. A federal judge may grant a habeas petition under § 2254, but only if the petitioner has first “exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).

In addition, where the state courts decided a claim on the merits, a federal district court may grant relief only if the state courts’ resolution of that claim:

(1) 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

(2) 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.

Id. § 2254(d)

Clardy v. Pounds, 2023 WL 4306690, at *1 (M.D.Tenn. June 30, 2023)

In a recent federal district court decision, a trial lawyer’s assistance was found to be constitutionally deficient, as she failed to present expert testimony on eyewitness identifications.

The federal court concluded that the failure was harmful to the petitioner, given that the only evidence presented during the trial was eyewitness identification of the defendant as the person who shot and killed the victim.

The ineffective assistance of counsel claim had been fully exhausted in the state courts. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) (petitioner seeking to prove that his or her lawyer rendered ineffective assistance must show (1) constitutionally deficient performance; and (2) actual harm to the defense resulting from that deficient performance).

To show  deficient performance, the petitioner must demonstrate that his or her lawyer’s performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” based on “prevailing professional norms.” Id. at 688. The petitioner must “show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.

A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. Under the law however, the standard for a review of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim asserted by a state prisoner in a § 2254 proceeding is not only whether the petitioner can show deficient performance and harm to the defense under Strickland, but whether the state courts properly applied the Stickland standard. The federal district court found that the state courts’ determination that the accused was not harmed by the failure to call and expert was unreasonable, in light of the fact that the only remotely incriminating evidence presented at trial was eyewitness identification.

The eyewitness did not have a prior personal relationship with the accused, but he nevertheless claimed to recognize the accused from having seen him around the neighborhood. The eyewitness testified that the person who shot the victim was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and moved quickly. The witness testified that he had only really seen the side of the shooter’s face.

See Clardy v. Pounds, 2023 WL 4306690 (M.D. Tenn. June 30, 2023)

Experts are not a “luxury.” In many cases, it is a lawyer’s duty to hire experts. A criminal defense lawyer can never cut corners when your liberty is at stake.


If you feel like you may have a claim here, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Brian H. Mallonee, Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer.

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