Saturday, July 18, 2015

Promise to shelter suspect's children leads to habeas relief

Jean K. Gilles Phillips and KU Innocence Project intern Abby West won in Sharp v. Rohling, No. 14-3090 (10th Cir. July 15, 2015), obtaining federal habeas relief from a state murder prosecution from Shawnee County.  The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed Ms. Sharp's conviction in 2009, rejecting her claim that statements made to investigators were involuntary and should have been suppressed.  The Tenth Circuit held that this holding was a "decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding" and thus warranted relief under federal habeas law:
The Kansas trial court found Ms. Sharp was not “operating under any promises.” The supreme court reviewed that determination and concluded substantial competent evidence showed Detective Wheeles did not promise Ms. Sharp leniency, or alternatively, any promise of leniency was conditioned on Ms. Sharp not inculpating herself. As we point out below, the court was not clear on this next point, but it also decided Ms. Sharp was not operating under a promise to help find shelter for her and her children, or alternatively, any promise to help Ms. Sharp’s children was a noncoercive collateral benefit because it would not directly benefit Ms. Sharp. We conclude (1) the supreme court’s voluntariness determination was based in significant part on its fact findings about Detective Wheeles’s alleged promises; (2) it unreasonably found Detective Wheeles did not promise Ms. Sharp leniency; and (3) it unreasonably found Detective Wheeles did not promise to help Ms. Sharp and her children; or it decided any such promise did not induce Ms. Sharp to confess, which is a voluntariness determination and not a factual finding.
The Tenth Circuit held that the improper admission was not harmless and therefore granted habeas relief, subject to retrial by the state.

Here is coverage in the Lawrence Journal-World.

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