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Even with Defense Counsel's temporary absence from trial, Supreme Court reverses 6th Circuit &am

Federal courts may grant habeas corpus relief if the underlying state-court decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by” this Court. 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). Here, the Sixth Circuit held that respondent Cory Donald’s attorney provided per se ineffective assistance of counsel under United States v. Cronic, 466 U. S. 648 (1984), when he was "briefly absent" (as the Supreme Court puts it) during testimony concerning other defendants. Because the Court holds that no case "clearly establishes" that Donald is entitled to relief under Cronic, the Supreme Court reversed the 6th Circuit.

Issue - Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: [In the normal course, defendants claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must satisfy the familiar framework of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 687 (1984), which requires a showing that “counsel’s performance was deficient” and “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” And when reviewing an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, “a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id., at 689.]

Std of Law: [Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214, a federal court may grant habeas relief only when a state court’s decision on the merits was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by” decisions from this Court, or was “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” 28 U. S. C. §2254(d). Donald does not argue that the state-court decision in his case was factually erroneous. Instead, he argues that the decision was both contrary to and involved an unreasonable application of this Court’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel cases...a habeas petitioner is required to “show that the state court’s ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U. S. 83, 103 (2011)....Cronic applies in “circumstances that are so likely to prejudice the accused that the cost of litigating their effect in a particular case is unjustified.” 466 U. S., at 658.]

Defense counsel often employ different strategies in the Courtroom. Here, defense counsel for Donald indicated that his case had no involvement in a particular area of the case. At one point in the trial, the Court resumed the case and Donald’s counsel was not in the courtroom…At first, the judge indicated that he would wait for the attorney. But he then decided to proceed because Donald’s counsel had already indicated that the exhibit and testimony did not apply to his client. About 10 minutes later, the lawyer returned. The judge informed him that “‘up until that point we only were discussing the telephone chart,’” to which the attorney replied, “‘[Y]es,your Honor, and as I had indicated on the record, I had no dog in the race and no interest in that.’” Ibid. Is this ineffective assistance? Did this have any effect on Donald's case?

The Defendant argued that he should be entitled to a new trial because of (1) defense counsel's position on the objection; and (2) the absence in the Court room during testimony as a denial of the 6th Amendment Right to effective assistance of Counsel. The Defendant exhausted any state remedies (Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court) and the District Court granted federal habeas relief. This was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit and reversed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court does not find either of these two arguments the basis for granting a new trial.

Conclusion: [Because none of our cases confront “the specific question presented by this case,” the state court’s decision could notbe “contrary to” any holding from this Court. Lopez v. Smith, 574 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (per curiam) (slip op., at5). The most that the Sixth Circuit could muster was that “[t]he testimony of a government witness is similar to the trial events that th[is] Court has deemed to be critical stages.” 580 Fed. Appx., at 284....Within the contours of Cronic, a fair minded jurist could conclude that a presumption of prejudice is not warranted by counsel’s short absence during testimony about other defendants where that testimony was irrelevant to the defendant’s theory of the case.]

The Case is Woods v. Donald, 575 US ___ (Mar. 30, 2015).

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