Mitchell v. Superintendent Dallas SCI, No. 17-3118 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
After a 2001 joint trial with co-defendants, Eley and Eiland, a jury convicted Mitchell of second-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery for the shooting death of a Harrisburg taxi driver. He is serving a sentence of life imprisonment. Mitchell and Eley had unsuccessfully moved to have their cases severed. After unsuccessful state court proceedings, Mitchell sought federal habeas relief (28 U.S.C. 2254), arguing that the admission of testimony by jailhouse informants concerning Eiland’s out-of-court statements violated his Confrontation Clause rights. The district court concluded that Eiland’s statements to the informants were nontestimonial under Supreme Court precedent (Crawford (2004)) so their admission did not violate his rights even though he could not cross-examine Eiland. Mitchell argued that the Supreme Court decided Crawford after the last state court proceeding dealing with the Sixth Amendment issue so that Crawford principles were not “clearly established” at the time. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Mitchell, by focusing narrowly on the “clearly established Federal law” language of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1) and by relying on the law in effect at the time of his proceedings, misstates the standard applicable to habeas corpus review of a state court conviction. Relief is available “only on the ground that [a prisoner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” Mitchell is not in custody pursuant to what is now recognized as a Sixth Amendment violation.