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Name: Johnson v. Lee
Case #: 15-789
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/31/2016

California’s procedural bar requiring defendants to raise available claims on direct appeal instead of by habeas petition is adequate to preclude federal review. Lee and her boyfriend were convicted of two counts of first degree murder. In 1999, her claims on direct appeal were rejected. She sought federal review, raising mostly new claims that had not been raised on appeal. The district court stayed federal proceedings while Lee pursued a state habeas petition. The California Supreme Court denied relief, citing In re Dixon (1953) 41 Cal.2d 756. The district court then dismissed her petition as procedurally defaulted. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding Lee’s challenge to the Dixon bar’s adequacy meritorious because she had shown it was not regularly followed. The court remanded the case to permit the warden to show whether the Dixon bar was consistently applied. On remand the district court found the procedural bar adequate. The Ninth Circuit reversed (Lee v. Jacquez (2015) 788 F.3d 1124). The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed in per curiam opinion. Generally, federal habeas courts will not hear claims that have been defaulted pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule. In Dixon, the California Supreme Court stated that, absent special circumstances, habeas will not lie where the claimed errors could have been, but were not, raised on direct appeal. A state procedural bar is adequate if it is “firmly established and regularly followed.” California’s Dixon bar meets both criteria. Although Lee presented evidence that the California Supreme Court failed to cite Dixon in some summary denials where it should have been applied, this failed to show the bar is applied inconsistently. For such a well-established rule, “it takes more than a few outliers to show inadequacy.” “California courts need not address procedural default before reaching the merits, so the purportedly missing citations [to Dixon] show nothing.”

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