Wharton v. Martel, No. 11-99016 (9th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Petitioner George Wharton appealed the district court's denial of habeas relief. Police officers arrested Petitioner after finding the body of his live-in girlfriend stuffed in a barrel in their kitchen. Petitioner admitted killing her but claimed at trial that he had been provoked into the killing and, therefore, was guilty only of second-degree murder. The jury disagreed and convicted him of first-degree murder. In this habeas proceeding, Petitioner argued that his due process rights were violated when jurors saw him shackled and that his trial lawyer provided ineffective assistance. The Ninth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed: although some jurors occasionally saw Petitioner in shackles while being transported through the halls of the courthouse, those sporadic sightings outside the courtroom did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. The district court also correctly held that Petitioner's trial lawyer chose a constitutionally permissible guilt-phase strategy of forgoing certain defenses for fear of opening the door to the jury's learning about Petitioner's significant criminal history, which included a prior murder and rape.