Carey v. Musladin

PETITIONER: Thomas L. Carey, Warden
RESPONDENT: Mathew Musladin
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-785
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 70 (2006)
GRANTED: Apr 17, 2006
ARGUED: Oct 11, 2006
DECIDED: Dec 11, 2006

David W. Fermino - on behalf of Respondent
Gregory A. Ott - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Mathew Musladin was convicted of the murder of Tom Studer. At Musladin's trial, Studer's family wore buttons showing pictures of the victim. Musladin's defense attorney requested that the trial judge tell the family to take off the buttons because they were prejudicial to the defense, but the judge denied the motion. Musladin later appealed his conviction to a state appellate court, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court. The appellate court held that though the buttons were an "impermissible factor" and should be discouraged, they were not so prejudicial that he had been denied his Due Process right to a fair trial. Musladin filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal District Court, but it was denied. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the petition, reversed the appellate court, and sent the case back the District Court.

Under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254(d)(1), a provision of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a federal court can grant habeas relief to a defendant convicted in state court only if the state court decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." The Ninth Circuit found that this standard had been met, because the state court decision had been "objectively unreasonable." The Ninth Circuit ruled that the state court should have recognized the buttons as inherently prejudicial to the defense. In addition to Supreme Court precedents, the majority of the Circuit Court panel relied on one of the Circuit's own precedents that specifically dealt with buttons in the courtroom. The dissent argued that this reliance contradicted AEDPA's requirement that habeas courts consider the law "as determined by the Supreme Court." The majority considered the use of the Circuit precedent appropriate because it applied general principles set down by the Supreme Court.


Did the Ninth Circuit exceed its authority under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254(d)(1) when it overturned a murder conviction because the victim's family members appeared in the Courtroom wearing buttons with pictures of the victim?

Media for Carey v. Musladin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 2006 in Carey v. Musladin

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 11, 2006 in Carey v. Musladin

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Thomas has the opinion in 05-785, Carey v. Musladin.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on the writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent was convicted of first degree murder for killing a man outside the home of his estranged wife.

At respondent’s trial several members of the victim’s family sat on the front row of the spectators gallery wearing buttons with the photo of the victim on them.

Respondent asked to have the family members remove the buttons but the California Trial Court denied his request.

The California Court of Appeals affirmed respondent’s conviction.

Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted habeas corpus relief concluding that the California Appellate Court’s denial of his request was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal Law.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

Under the federal habeas corpus statute Federal Courts may not grant habeas corpus unless the relevant State Court decision is contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by this court.

In the Estelle v. Williams and Holbrook v. Flynn this court address claims that State sponsored courtroom practice has violated defendant’s fair-trial rights.

But we have never addressed a claim like this one in which it is alleged that private-actor courtroom conduct was so inherently prejudicial that it deprived a defendant of a fair-trial.

Reflecting the lack of guidance from this court, State Courts, and lower Federal Courts, have taken widely varying in considering claims of inherent prejudice resulting from private-actor courtroom conduct.

We go to great link to point out that this is not the case involving situation in which the trial is overwhelmed by mob rule or mob activity and court has dealt with that in the past.

Given the lack of holding from this court regarding the potentially prejudicial effect of spectator’s courtroom conduct of the kind involved here it cannot be said that the California Appellate Court unreasonably applied clearly established Federal Law.

Justices Stevens, Kennedy and Souter have each filed opinions concurring in the judgment.