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Law School Case Brief

Simmons v. Simpson - No. 3:07-CV-313-S, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122388 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 11, 2009)


A habeas corpus petitioner seeking discovery need not satisfy the stringent requirements established by 28 U.S.C.S. § 2254(e)(2) that govern the availability of evidentiary hearings in a habeas corpus proceeding. That is, although both discovery and an expanded record may be of value at an evidentiary hearing, they are also provided in an effort to avoid the need for an evidentiary hearing.


In 1985, a Kentucky court sentenced Petitioner Simmons to death following a jury trial at which he was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of three Louisville area women in the early 1980s. The Kentucky courts affirmed his conviction and death sentence on direct appeal and on post-conviction review. Petitioner Simmons then filed the a petition for habeas corpus relief seeking leave of court to conduct certain discovery pursuant to R. Governing § 2254 Proc. U.S. Dist. Cts. 6. Simmons requested to depose the seven men to obtain information to support his claim of racially discriminatory jury selection (Baston claim). Simmons claimed that the requested discovery was material to claims that prosecutorial use of peremptory challenges to exclude 5 of 7 African-American veniremen violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights and that counsel had twice raised the issue at trial without success. The warden opposed the motion claiming that Simmons had not satisfied the criteria for an evidentiary hearing and that the underlying claims were procedurally barred. 


Was the Batson claim procedurally barred from review on its merits?




The court held that petitioner's Batson claim was not procedurally barred from review on its merits. After finding that such a motion was not subject to the stringent standards in § 2254(e)(2) governing evidentiary hearings, the court held that the Batson claim was not procedurally defaulted as the “rule” as to which such procedural default allegedly occurred in fact was a new rule of procedure that was applied for the first time on appeal in the state court and was at best a “better practice.” Moreover, the requested Batson discovery was clearly material to the merits. However, given that motions for expert assistance filed by petitioner’s counsel were facially insufficient under Ake since they did not show a serious question of petitioner’s sanity, the requested discovery was a prohibited fishing expedition.

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