Weeden v. Johnson, No. 14-17366 (9th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Sarah Weeden was convicted in California state court of felony murder and sentenced to twenty-nine years to life in prison for her role in a bungled robbery that occurred when she was fourteen. She was not present at the scene of the crime; the prosecution’s case rested on evidence of her role in planning and facilitating the robbery. Weeden’s defense at trial consisted entirely of four character witnesses. Trial counsel did not seek an evaluation by a psychologist or present expert testimony about the effect of Weeden’s youth on her mental state. In post-trial proceedings, counsel claimed that he did not obtain an evaluation because the result might not support his defense strategy. In her habeas corpus petition, Weeden claimed that her trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. The state courts rejected this claim, finding that counsel’s refusal to investigate psychological testimony was a reasonable strategic decision. The district court denied habeas relief; the Ninth Circuit reversed. The Court concluded that had an expert's testimony been presented to the jury, "the probability of a different result is 'sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.'"