Today in Hendrix v. Palmer, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of habeas relief to a Michigan prisoner, and added another reason he deserves relief.
Joseph Hendrix received a life sentence after losing at trial on charges of carjacking and felony murder. At Hendrix’s trial, Michigan prosecutors introduced statements he made to police after invoking his right to counsel. Specifically, evidence showed that, two days after Hendrix signed an advice-of-rights form requesting an attorney, officers interrogated him—without an attorney. They presented Hendrix with the fact the victim may die, and he offered no alibi, asked if he’d be charged with murder, said he didn’t want to say more because he didn’t want to get into more trouble, and made comments about where he had been before the carjacking.
At trial, prosecutors heavily relied on Hendrix’s suspicious comments and lack of alibi during the second interview. Trial counsel failed to object. In federal habeas proceedings, the State conceded that it was error to admit these statements but argued their admission was harmless.
The district court granted habeas relief on Hendrix’s claims of violations of both the Fifth Amendment (in regard to admission of the statements), and the Sixth Amendment (in regard to his counsel’s failure to object). The court denied all other claims for relief, and both parties appealed.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court, even under AEDPA’s stringent standard. Interestingly, the court emphasized the power of the prosecutor's use of what Hendrix didn’t say during the second interrogation: “His failure to muster a credible alibi when he knew the gravity of his situation enabled the prosecutor to argue persuasively that Hendrix had no alibi because he was guilty.”
What’s more, the Sixth Circuit offered an additional ground for habeas relief. The court concluded that prosecutors erred under Doyle v.Ohio by commenting at all on what Hendrix didn’t say in his interrogations. Doyle bars the use of silence after Miranda warnings. The court emphasized that Doyle does not go “out the window as soon as a defendant makes any post-Miranda statement.” Rather, Doyle “continues to apply to subject matters on which the defendant has remained silent.”