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Name: Cummings v. Martel
Case #: 11-99011
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/11/2015
Summary

California Supreme Court’s denial of Turner v. Louisiana (1965) 379 U.S. 466 claim was not unreasonable under AEDPA because bailiff who testified did not have a sufficiently close relationship to the jury to impact its view of his veracity. Cummings was convicted of the first degree murder of a Los Angeles police officer. The California Supreme court affirmed his conviction and denied his state habeas petitions. The federal district court denied his federal habeas petition and he appealed. Held: Affirmed. Cummings claimed his due process rights were violated when Officer La Casella, who served as a courtroom bailiff and security officer during a portion of his trial, was called as a prosecution witness to testify he overhead Cummings confess to shooting the officer. In Turner v. Louisiana, two deputies served as courtroom bailiffs and key prosecution witnesses in a death penalty trial. They both investigated the murder and watched over the jury during trial, driving the jury to restaurants, and eating and talking with them. The Supreme Court held that the deputies’ continuous and intimate association with the jurors, such that their testimony was given undue weight, denied the defendant due process of law. Here, the State court did misapply the first prong of Turner when it found that La Casella was not a “key” prosecution witness. La Casella was a reliable witness and his testimony about Cummings’ confession to the killing was central to the prosecution’s case. However, this is not dispositive because Turner also requires that the witness have a close relationship to the jury. The State court’s finding that La Casella had only minimal and strictly professional contact with the jury, thereby distinguishing this case from Turner, was not an unreasonable application of the Turner decision.