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Name: Cavazos v. Smith
Case #: 10-1115
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 10/31/2011
Subsequent History: 132 S.Ct. 2; 181 L.Ed.2d 311

Ninth Circuit erred by reversing judgment based on insufficient evidence where evidence existed to support the judgment. After presentation of substantial expert testimony on both sides for shaken baby syndrome (SBS), a jury convicted Smith of assault on a child resulting in death (Pen. Code, § 273ab). She was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. The Ninth Circuit reversed the state judgment, finding insufficient evidence for the state’s experts to opine that Smith assaulted her seven-week-old grandson. The Circuit court concluded that “[a]bsence of evidence cannot constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and therefore, the state court had unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s opinion in Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, in upholding Smith’s conviction. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the circuit court misapplied the sufficiency of the evidence standard set forth in Jackson. The majority held that a federal court may not reverse a state court’s rejection of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court may only do so “if the state court decision was ‘objectively unreasonable.'” The dissent found misuse of discretion by the majority, stating a certiorari writ “‘is rarely granted when the asserted error [is] . . . the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.'” Noting the weak nonmedical evidence, changes in scientific theory regarding SBS since 1997 and poor performance of Smith’s trial attorney, the dissent would have denied review.