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Name: Gimenez v. Ochoa
Case #: 14-55681
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/09/2016

Scientific debate regarding the validity of the “triad-only” test to detect shaken baby syndrome (SBS) does not constitute a repudiation of that test in the scientific community such that it undermines defendant’s murder conviction. Defendant was convicted of murdering his infant daughter. In his second federal writ petition, defendant advanced a due process claim on the ground that the expert SBS evidence presented at his trial has been undermined by subsequent scientific developments in the field. In his case the prosecution’s experts rested their SBS diagnosis on a triad of symptoms—subdural hematoma, brain swelling, and retinal hemorrhage. However, medical knowledge regarding SBS has changed since his conviction such that the medical community now requires that impact injuries be detected as well before diagnosing SBS, and that no such injuries were found on his daughter. Held: Affirmed. Claims of constitutional denial of due process may be grounded in faulty science, even in successive petitions, because the flawed analytical method may not be debunked until after the petitioner’s one-year deadline has passed to file a timely petition under AEDPA. However, the petitioner must show that the introduction of the flawed expert evidence undermined the fundamental fairness of his trial. Gimenez failed to make such a showing because his evidence reflects only a vigorous debate about the validity of the “triad-only” method of diagnosing SBS, not a repudiation of that method. Further, Gimenez cannot prove by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty but for the SBS evidence given the testimony offered at his trial.

Gimenez’s ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim is substantially similar to the one raised in his first federal writ petition and is therefore barred. “A claim in a successive petition is barred when its basic thrust or gravamen is the same as a claim that’s already been raised, even if it’s supported by new factual allegations or legal arguments.” Gimenez’s IAC claims all relate to the use of expert testimony at trial. They contain the same grounds for relief presented in his first petition and are therefore barred.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: