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Kernan v. Cuero

Justia Summary

Cuero, on parole, driving under the influence of methamphetamine and without a license, while carrying a gun, drove his car into and seriously injured a pedestrian. A California court permitted the state to amend a criminal complaint to which the Cuero had pleaded guilty, acknowledging that permitting the amendment would lead to a higher sentence. The amendment added another “strike” to Cuero’s criminal history. The court reasoned that the case was distinguishable from “a situation where the [State] might, after a guilty plea, seek to amend” by adding “new charges” or facts that fundamentally alter the substance of the complaint.Cuero was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, then pleaded guilty to the amended complaint and was sentenced to a term with a minimum of 25 years. The Ninth Circuit held that the California court had made a mistake of federal law, reasoning that Cuero was entitled to specific performance of the 14-year, 4-month sentence that he would have received had the complaint not been amended. The Supreme Court reversed, citing the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1), stating that none of its prior decisions clearly require the state court to impose the lower sentence that the parties originally expected. Even if the state violated the Constitution when it moved to amend the complaint there is no Supreme Court precedent that “clearly established” specific performance as a remedy. Circuit precedent does not constitute “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.”

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