Federal courts may not overturn a state court conviction based upon insufficiency of the evidence.

In Cavazos v. Smith, No. 10-1115 (Oct. 31, 2011), the Court reversed a Ninth Circuit decision ordering habeas corpus relief based upon the insufficiency of evidence. The Court emphasized that “it is the responsibility of the jury—not the court—to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial,” and that “a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court.” Rather, “[t]he federal court . . . may do so only if the state court decision was ‘objectively unreasonable.’” The Court noted that “the inevitable consequence of this settled law is that judges will sometimes encounter convictions that they believe to be mistaken, but that they must nonetheless uphold”—and appeared to acknowledge that this may be precisely such a case. Nevertheless, the Court found that the Ninth Circuit had improperly “substituted its judgment for that of a California jury on the question whether the prosecution’s or the defense’s expert witnesses more persuasively explained the cause of a death.” As such, habeas relief was improper.


Mr. Loren Dickstein, Esq.


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