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Carey v. Musladin

Supreme Court of the United States

October 11, 2006, Argued ; December 11, 2006, Decided

No. 05-785

Opinion

 [**651]  [*72]  Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

This Court has recognized that certain courtroom practices are so inherently prejudicial that they deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 503-506, 96 S. Ct. 1691, 48 L. Ed. 2d 126 (1976); Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U.S. 560, 568, 106 S. Ct. 1340, 89 L. Ed. 2d 525 (1986). In this case, a state court held that buttons displaying the victim's image worn by the victim's family during respondent's trial did not deny respondent his right to a fair trial. We must decide whether that holding was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, as determined by this Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). We hold that it was not.

On May 13, 1994, respondent Mathew [****5]  Musladin shot and killed Tom Studer outside the home of Musladin's estranged wife, Pamela. At trial, Musladin admitted that he killed Studer but argued that he did so in self-defense. A California jury rejected Musladin's self-defense argument and convicted him of first-degree murder and three related offenses.

During Musladin's trial, several members of Studer's family sat in the front row of the spectators' gallery. On at least some of the trial's 14 days, some members of Studer's family wore buttons with a photo of Studer on them.1  Prior to opening [**652]  statements, Musladin's counsel moved the court to order the Studer family not to wear the buttons during the trial. The court denied the motion, stating that it saw "no  [*73]  possible prejudice to the defendant." App. to Pet. for Cert. 74a.

 [****6] Musladin appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal in 1997.  He argued that the buttons deprived him of his Fourteenth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights.  At the outset of its analysis, the Court of Appeal stated that Musladin had to show actual or inherent prejudice to succeed on his claim and cited Flynn, supra, at 570, 106 S. Ct. 1340, 89 L. Ed. 2d 525, as providing the test for inherent prejudice.  The Court of Appeal, quoting part of Flynn's test, made clear that it "consider[ed] the  [***487] wearing of photographs of victims in a courtroom to be an 'impermissible factor coming into play,' the practice of which should be discouraged." App. to Pet. for Cert. 75a (quoting Flynn, supra, at 570, 106 S. Ct. 1340, 89 L. Ed. 2d 525). Nevertheless, the court concluded, again quoting Flynn, supra, at 571, 106 S. Ct. 1340, 89 L. Ed. 2d 525, that the buttons had not "branded defendant 'with an unmistakable mark of guilt' in the eyes of the jurors" because "[t]he simple photograph of Tom Studer was unlikely to have been taken as a sign of anything other than the normal grief occasioned by the loss of [a] family member." App. to Pet. for Cert. 75a.

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549 U.S. 70 *; 127 S. Ct. 649 **; 166 L. Ed. 2d 482 ***; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 9587 ****; 75 U.S.L.W. 4019; 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 23

THOMAS L. CAREY, WARDEN, Petitioner v. MATHEW MUSLADIN

Subsequent History: On remand at Musladin v. Lamarque, 555 F.3d 830, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 2728 (9th Cir. Cal., Feb. 12, 2009)

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Musladin v. Lamarque, 427 F.3d 653, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 22735 (9th Cir. Cal., 2005)

Disposition: 427 F.3d 653, vacated and remanded.

CORE TERMS

buttons, spectators', courtroom, clearly established federal law, cases, wearing, state court, courts, fair trial, practices, holdings, inherently prejudicial, intimidation, deprived, clothes, display, dicta

Criminal Law & Procedure, Standards of Review, Contrary & Unreasonable Standard, General Overview, Clearly Established Federal Law