On January 14, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Jennings v. Stephens. The issue in this case involves a federal habeas petitioner who sought relief based upon three theories of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court granted relief on two theories but rejected the third. The question in this case was whether the prisoner must file a separate notice of appeal and a motion for a certificate of appealability in order to rely upon his third theory (which the district court had rejected) in defending against the State’s appeal.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Scalia, the Court held by a vote of 6-3 that the prisoner in this case was not required to file a cross-appeal or seek a certificate of appealability to rely on his third theory on appeal, because the theory was a defense of a favorable judgment below on alternate grounds. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Kennedy and Alito joined. The judgment of the Fifth Circuit was reversed and the case remanded for consideration of Jennings' third claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
To discuss the case, we have Kent Scheidegger, who is the Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.