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Anderson v. Gipson

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 6, 2018

Aaron Anderson, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Connie Gipson, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted June 15, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Kimberly J. Mueller, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:12-cv-02964-KJM-KJN

          Ann Catherine McClintock (argued), Assistant Federal Defender; Heather E. Williams, Federal Defender; Office of the Federal Defender, Sacramento, California; for Petitioner-Appellant.

          David Andrew Eldridge (argued) and Justain P. Riley, Deputy Attorneys General; Michael P. Farrell, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Xavier Becerra, Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, Sacramento, California; for Respondent-Appellee.

          Before: Mary M. Schroeder, David M. Ebel, [*]and Ronald M. Gould, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Habeas Corpus

         The panel reversed the district court's denial of California state prisoner Aaron Anderson's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his conviction for domestic violence, assault, and vandalism.

         The panel held that the California Court of Appeal's decision denying Anderson relief on his claim that the trial court violated his due process rights by failing to order sua sponte a competency hearing involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. The panel explained that in the face of strong indicia of incompetence, including a bona fide suicide attempt on the eve of trial, Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 385 (1966), and its progeny demand more than explanation; they demand a competency hearing.

         The panel remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant the writ unless, within a reasonable time, the State grants a new trial; and dismissed as moot Anderson's appeal as to claims of error involving his Faretta waiver and shackling during trial.

          OPINION

          EBEL, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         In 2008, Petitioner Aaron Anderson was convicted of domestic violence, assault, and vandalism stemming from a physical quarrel with his on-again, off-again live-in girlfriend. Pursuant to California's Three Strikes law, Anderson was sentenced to fifty-four years to life. After exhausting his state remedies, Anderson sought a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, alleging constitutional violations involving (1) the failure of his trial judge to call sua sponte for a competency hearing, (2) the failure of the trial judge to revoke sua sponte his Faretta waiver, and (3) the trial court's decision to keep him shackled during trial.

         The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") sets a high bar for a state petitioner seeking to establish a constitutional violation. Mindful of that bar, we nonetheless conclude it was error for the state trial judge not to sua sponte order a competency hearing given the numerous signs of Anderson's mental incompetency, including his suicide attempt on the eve of trial. Accordingly, we REMAND the case to the district court with instructions to grant the writ unless, within a reasonable time, the state grants a new trial consistent with this opinion. Because of our ruling on the competency issue, we need not address Anderson's other issues, and we therefore DISMISS as moot his appeals as to the Faretta and shackling issues.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn primarily from the opinion of the California Court of Appeal in Anderson's direct appeal.[1]

         In 2007 Mr. Anderson and the victim, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, attended a wake for Anderson's nephew. This wake left Anderson "distraught," and he drove with his brother and the victim to the grocery store. When the victim refused to join the brother and Anderson for a drink, Anderson "hit her behind her right ear and grabbed the car keys, heading for the store. As she followed him toward the store, he struck her again, knocking her down."

         The victim got up and continued into the store, where she asked the manager if she could call 911. "After she made the call, [Anderson] tried to grab the phone out of her hand. He put his arm around her neck and dragged her backward about 15 feet before throwing her to the ground." The victim got up and climbed back into the car, but Anderson climbed in with her. The two drove off, but were intercepted by police shortly afterwards. Officers took Anderson into custody, but after he was placed into a police cruiser he kicked out the cruiser's window. When police examined the victim, she had "a two- by one-inch 'painful' contusion behind [her] ear, bruises, and a lump on her head."

         The incident at the supermarket was caught on the store's surveillance cameras. According to the California Court of Appeal, the video "did not show the victim attacking [Anderson] in the car," as Anderson claims, but instead

it showed him on top of her in the car drawing his hand back several times; it showed him standing above her as she lay on the ground outside the market, moving his arms and legs; and it showed him swinging his arms as he stood over her in the store after shoving her to the ground.

         A. The Initial Proceedings ...


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