Lezmond Mitchell v. U.S. Cert Petition


Mitchell Cert Petition

Questions presented:

Petitioner, a Navajo, is a federal prisoner sentenced to death under the
Federal Death Penalty Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3599. Petitioner’s statements to the
FBI constituted the primary evidence at his capital trial. The FBI took these
statements while petitioner spent twenty-five days in tribal custody, with no right
to the assistance of counsel. In a motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255, petitioner presented evidence that a working arrangement between federal
and tribal authorities resulted in his arrest on a minor tribal charge, and kept him
in prolonged custody not authorized under Navajo Nation law, to deprive him of his
federal procedural rights. Petitioner also alleged ineffective assistance at the guilt
and penalty phases of his trial, and the depositions of his three trial attorneys
revealed serious contradictions regarding the investigations undertaken and
defenses pursued.
An evidentiary hearing is required in a Section 2255 case “[u]nless the
motion and the files and records of the cases conclusively show that the prisoner is
entitled to no relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). In this case, the district court denied the
Section 2255 motion without a hearing, and a divided court of appeals affirmed.
The questions presented are:

1. Whether the court of appeals, in conflict with the Eighth and Tenth Circuits’
grants of a hearing on similar records, erroneously concluded that petitioner
could not establish, under any circumstances, that his attorneys had
performed deficiently at the penalty phase of his trial.

2. Whether the court of appeals clearly misapprehended Section 2255(b)’s
standards by viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the government,
weighing the evidence, and silently resolving factual disputes to conclude
that no evidentiary hearing was required.

3. Whether the court of appeals erroneously concluded that reasonable jurists
could not debate whether an evidentiary hearing was warranted on
petitioner’s claim of federal-tribal collusion to deprive him of his rights to
prompt presentment and assistance of counsel.

Lower court decision.

Prior posts here and here.