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Circuit Grants Habeas Petition After Dog's Sniff Called Into Question

Publication Date: 
July 30, 2013
Source: 
Daily Journal
Author: 
Hamed Aleaziz

Professor Weisberg spoke with Hamed Aleaziz of the Daily Journal about Aguilar v. Woodford and why habeas reversals are difficult matters.

Prosecutors' failure to disclose a police dog's history of mistaken scent identifications could mean freedom for a convicted murderer, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Monday.

In an opinion written by Judge William A. Fletcher, the panel ruled that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office omitted mention of the fact that a police dog named Reilly had repeatedly failed to correctly identify odors, calling into question evidence used to convict Gilbert Aguilar of first-degree murder in 2002. Granting Aguilar's habeas petition, the panel ordered that he be granted a new trial or released.Aguilar v. Woodford, 2013 DJDAR 55575.

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Robert Weisberg, co-director of Stanford Law School's Criminal Justice Center, said the case was especially striking, noting that winning habeas reversals was difficult enough, and that "it's especially hard to do when there really isn't much of a dispute about the general legal principle" regarding exculpatory evidence.

"It takes an egregious error by the state court, a blatant misapplication of the law to the facts, to win a reversal," he said, "and that's what happened here."