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Mahrt v. Beard

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 1, 2017

Gregory Mahrt, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; Stu Sherman, Warden, Respondents-Appellants.

          Argued and Submitted September 14, 2016 San Francisco, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, D.C. No. 1:14-cv-01696-NJV Nandor J. Vadas, Magistrate Judge, Presiding

          Pamela K. Critchfield (argued), Deputy Attorney General; Peggy S. Ruffra and Jeffrey M. Laurence, Supervising Deputy Attorneys General; Office of the Attorney General, San Francisco, California, for Respondents-Appellants.

          Paul Kleven (argued), Law Offices of Paul Kleven, Berkeley, California, for Petitioner-Appellee.

          Before: William A. Fletcher, Morgan B. Christen, and Michelle T. Friedland, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Habeas Corpus

         The panel reversed the district court's grant of a habeas corpus petition in which a California state prisoner alleged that his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated by trial counsel's failure to bring a pre-plea suppression motion.

         The panel held that the petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim is not barred by Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258 (1973), which, properly understood, does not bar federal habeas claims of pre-plea ineffective assistance of counsel when the action, or inaction, of counsel prevents petitioner from making an informed choice whether to plead. The panel explained that if the deputies unconstitutionally searched the petitioner's home, counsel's failure to move to suppress the fruits of that search prevented him from making an informed choice whether to plead.

         The panel wrote that counsel should have moved to suppress the firearm and ammunition found in the petitioner's home, but concluded that the state habeas courts were not unreasonable in denying the writ because it would have been reasonable for the state courts to conclude that a motion to suppress, if brought, would likely have been denied.

          OPINION

          W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

         The State of California appeals from a grant of habeas corpus to Petitioner Gregory Mahrt. The district court found that Mahrt's state-court guilty plea rested on a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

         I. Factual Background

         On September 3, 2012, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies were dispatched to a residence in Petaluma, California. A neighbor had reported that a "male and female subject [were] arguing over a gun." The property was owned by Robyn Ryan, the mother of Petitioner-Appellee Gregory Mahrt's ex-girlfriend, Tracy Ryan. Mahrt was living in a garage on the property that had been converted into a room.

         As the deputies approached the property, Mahrt walked out and met them at the front gate. The deputies detained Mahrt and asked about the argument and the gun. In a written "Incident/Investigation Report, " Deputy Yoder described Mahrt as initially "uncooperative." According to Deputy Yoder's report, Mahrt told the deputies that Tracy had left before they arrived. Robyn Ryan stated in a sworn declaration that she likewise had informed the deputies that Tracy had "left the area" before they arrived, and that she had provided this information to the deputies before any search.

         The deputies conducted what Deputy Yoder's report characterizes as a "protective sweep" of Mahrt's room in the garage. According to the report, the deputies felt justified in conducting this warrantless search "[d]ue to the report of the possible domestic incident and the mention of a deadly weapon" and because Mahrt "may [have been] attempting to conceal a victim inside." As the deputies approached the garage, Mahrt "began yelling that he did not want [the officers] to enter his room." The deputies found no one inside Mahrt's room.

         According to the report, the deputies observed ammunition cans, ammunition, and what appeared to be an AR-15 Rifle (later determined to be a replica). Upon determining that no one was in the room, and after observing the firearm-related ...


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