Williams v Trammell

Williams was sentenced to death for murder during an armed robbery. He filed a federal habeas petition arguing insufficient evidence and ineffective assistance. The district court denied his petition. The panel, with one judge adding a concurrence, affirmed. It held that, while there would be constitutional concerns if Oklahoma really eliminated all mens rea elements for aiding and abetting, the analysis at the state courts demonstrated sufficient evidence to affirm malice murder as Williams knew his confederate was armed, had pointed guns at Williams in the past and had shot people during robberies in the past and thus by joining him at the robbery can be justly held to have shared the intent to kill of the confederate. Turning to the ineffectiveness arguments, the panel held that while somewhat unclear, the Oklahoma rejection of the guilt phase claims was reasonable as there was no evidence that trial counsel possible use of drugs and alcohol during trial prevented zealous advocacy; evidence of a stolen watch was not prejudicial as Williams admitted drug use and robbery offenses and the DNA match on the watch connected Williams to a witness’ home;  the autopsy photos were relevant and not unduly prejudicial; evidence of the injuries to other victims was relevant as to the aggravating circumstance of creating a risk of harm to many people; certain testimony was improper, but, conviction was still likely even if it never came in; and on balance testimony which brought in both admissions and denials of guilt by Williams was helpful rather than harmful. As to Williams’ sentencing phase arguments, the panel held most were procedurally barred and those which were not were meritless as the facts Williams wanted to bring in through uncles was already in the record and the uncles had long criminal histories which would have come in and there was no indication what other evidence Williams believed should have been presented if the investigation he wanted was conducted.  The concurrence reiterated that strict liability offenses cannot be punished by death.

In re Nguyen (Davis v Pham)

Davis, as trustee, sued Pham to set aside a transfer of property under 11 USC 548. The bankruptcy judge ruled bare legal title is not an interest in land, that Nguyen only had bare title and thus denied the motion. The panel affirmed. It held under Kansas state law, which controls, joint tenancies and resulting trusts can both exist simultaneously, that occurred here and Nguyen thus had only bare title which is not subject to a 548 motion and 10th Circuit precedent which predicted the opposite legal conclusion must give way to more recent Kansas state decisions.