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Name: McClure v. Thompson
Case #: 01-35593
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 04/02/2003

On a state prisoner’s appeal from the denial of his habeas corpus petition, the court held that the Oregon state court decisions denying him post-conviction relief did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in finding no ineffective assistance of counsel in the days following his arrest. The petitioner was arrested when his fingerprints had been found in the blood of a dead woman who had been hit multiple times with a blunt object. He was also held in connection with the disappearance of two of the woman’s daughters. He retained counsel who spoke with him several times during the 4 to 7 days after his arrest. Petitioner told counsel where the children could be found, but not whether they were alive. The attorney had his secretary make an anonymous call to the police, who then located the bodies of the children. The petitioner was convicted of three counts of murder. In affirming the district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief, the majority found that although the ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(b)(1), requiring counsel to maintain confidences, applied to this situation, the question was resolved by the finding that counsel “reasonably believed” disclosure was necessary to prevent a criminal act that could imminently result in one or more deaths. The dissent by Judge Fletcher empathized with the attorney for feeling the need to act as a “human being,” but would find a deprivation of effective assistance of counsel because the attorney did not in fact have his client’s authority to disclose the confidence and had not established a “firm factual basis” for his belief that the children were still alive.