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` Cite as: 578 U. S. ____ (2016)
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`Per Curiam
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`JEFFREY WOODS, WARDEN v. TIMOTHY ETHERTON
`ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED
`
`
`STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
`
`
`No. 15–723. Decided April 4, 2016
`
` PER CURIAM.
`
`In the fall of 2006, Michigan law enforcement received
`
`an anonymous tip that two white males were traveling on
`I–96 between Detroit and Grand Rapids in a white Audi,
`possibly carrying cocaine. Officers spotted a vehicle
`matching that description and pulled it over for speeding.
`Respondent Timothy Etherton was driving; Ryan Pollie
`was in the passenger seat. A search of the car uncovered
`125.2 grams of cocaine in a compartment at the bottom of
`the driver side door. Both Etherton and Pollie were
`arrested.
`
`Etherton was tried in state court on a single count of
`possession with intent to deliver cocaine. At trial the facts
`reflected in the tip were not contested. The central point
`of contention was instead whether the cocaine belonged to
`Etherton or Pollie. Pollie testified for the prosecution
`pursuant to a plea agreement. He claimed that he had
`accompanied Etherton from Grand Rapids to Detroit, not
`knowing that Etherton intended to obtain cocaine there.
`According to Pollie, once the pair arrived in Detroit,
`Etherton left him alone at a restaurant and drove off,
`returning some 45 minutes later. It was only after they
`were headed back to Grand Rapids that Etherton revealed
`he had obtained the drugs.
`
`The prosecution also called several police officers to
`testify. Three of the officers described the content of the
`anonymous tip leading to Etherton’s arrest. On the third
`recounting of the tip, Etherton’s counsel objected on hear-
`say grounds, but the objection was not resolved when the
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` WOODS v. ETHERTON
`
`
`Per Curiam
`prosecutor agreed to move on. At closing, the prosecutor
`
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`also described the tip. The court instructed the jury that
`“the tip was not evidence,” but was admitted “only to show
`why the police did what they did.” App. to Pet. for Cert.
`88a. The jury convicted Etherton, and his conviction was
`affirmed on direct appeal. The Michigan Supreme Court
`
`
`denied leave to appeal. People v. Etherton, 483 Mich. 896,
`760 N. W. 2d 472 (2009).
`
`Etherton sought postconviction relief in state court on
`six grounds. Three are relevant here: First, he claimed
`that the admission of the anonymous tip violated his
`
`rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth
`Amendment. Second, that his trial counsel was ineffective
`for failing to object to the tip on that ground. And third,
`that his counsel on direct appeal was ineffective for failing
`
`to raise the Confrontation Clause and the ineffective
`
`assistance of trial counsel claims.
`
`The state habeas court rejected the first two claims on
`procedural grounds and the third on the merits. To pre-
`vail on a claim for ineffective assistance of appellate coun-
`sel, the state court explained, Etherton had to demon-
`
`
`strate that “appellate counsel’s decision not to pursue an
`issue on appeal fell below an objective standard of reason-
`ableness and that the representation so prejudiced [him]
`
`
`as to deprive him of a fair trial.” App. to Pet. for Cert.
`87a–88a. The state court concluded that Etherton failed
`on both counts.
`
`
`First, the court reasoned, appellate counsel may have
`reasonably forgone any Confrontation Clause claim after
`concluding that trial counsel’s failure to object was the
`product not of ineffectiveness but of strategy. While
`Etherton’s current counsel argues that trial counsel
`should have objected because the tip’s reference to “two
`men” suggested involvement by Etherton from the outset,
`Brief in Opposition 20–21, the reference also suggested
`Pollie’s prior involvement, contrary to his testimony that
`
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`2
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`

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` Cite as: 578 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`
`Per Curiam
`he was not with Etherton when he picked up the cocaine
`and had nothing to do with it. As the state court ex-
`plained, not objecting would have been consistent with
`trial counsel’s “strategy to show defendant’s non-
`involvement and possible responsibility of the passenger
`(who was also charged).” App. to Pet. for Cert. 88a.
`Second, the court determined, Etherton had not been
`
`prejudiced by counsel’s choice: there was “ample evidence”
`of his guilt and “the complained of errors, even if true,
`
`would not have changed the outcome” of the case. Id., at
`89a. Etherton’s allegations, the court concluded, ultimately
`
`
`failed to overcome the presumption that his appellate
`counsel functioned reasonably in not pursuing the Con-
`frontation Clause or ineffectiveness claims. Ibid. Both
`
`
`the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme
`Court denied leave to appeal.
`Etherton next sought federal habeas relief. Under the
`
`Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
`(AEDPA), federal habeas relief was available to him only
`if the state court’s decision “was contrary to, or involved
`an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
`law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
`States.” 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). “A state court’s determi-
`nation that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas
`relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the
`correctness of the state court’s decision.” Harrington v.
`Richter, 562 U. S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v.
`Alvarado, 541 U. S. 652, 664 (2004)). The state court
`decision must be “so lacking in justification that there was
`an error well understood and comprehended in existing
`
`law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.”
`
`White v. Woodall, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 4)
`(internal quotation marks omitted).
`When the claim at issue is one for ineffective assistance
`
`of counsel, moreover, AEDPA review is “doubly deferen-
`tial,” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U. S. 170, 190 (2011), be-
`
`
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`
`3
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`4
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` WOODS v. ETHERTON
`
`
`Per Curiam
`cause counsel is “strongly presumed to have rendered
`
`adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in
`the exercise of reasonable professional judgment,” Burt v.
`Titlow, 571 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 9) (quoting
`
`Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 690 (1984); in-
`ternal quotation marks omitted). In such circumstances,
`federal courts are to afford “both the state court and the
`defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.” Burt, supra, at
`
`___ (slip op., at 1).
`
`The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Ap-
`
`peals for the Sixth Circuit reversed in relevant part, over
`the dissent of Judge Kethledge. The majority concluded
`that Etherton’s appellate counsel had been constitution-
`ally ineffective, and that no fairminded jurist could con-
`
`clude otherwise. Etherton v. Rivard, 800 F. 3d 737 (2015).
`
`Without ruling on the merits of the court’s holding that
`counsel had been ineffective, we disagree with the deter-
`mination that no fairminded jurist could reach a contrary
`conclusion, and accordingly reverse.
`
`In finding counsel ineffective, the majority first con-
`cluded that Etherton’s right to confrontation had been vio-
`lated. The Confrontation Clause prohibits an out-of-court
`statement only if it is admitted for its truth. Crawford v.
`Washington, 541 U. S. 36, 60, n. 9 (2004). The Sixth Cir-
`cuit determined that the contents of the tip were admitted
`for their truth because the tip was referenced by three
`
`different witnesses and mentioned in closing argument.
`These “repeated references both to the existence and the
`details of the content of the tip went far beyond what was
`necessary for background,” the majority below concluded,
`“indicating the content of the tip was admitted for its
`truth.” 800 F. 3d, at 751.
`
`The majority next found that Etherton had been preju-
`diced by the violation, a showing Etherton’s state court
`counsel would have had to make on appeal to obtain relief
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`either on the forfeited Confrontation Clause objection, see
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`

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`5
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` Cite as: 578 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`
`Per Curiam
` People v. Carines, 460 Mich. 750, 763–764, 597 N. W. 2d
`
`130, 138–139 (1999) (showing of prejudice required to
`overcome forfeiture), or the ineffectiveness claim, Strick-
`land, supra, at 687 (showing of prejudice required to
`
`demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel). In finding
`prejudice, the majority acknowledged the evidence of
`Etherton’s guilt: the cocaine was found in a driver side
`compartment inches from Etherton; he owned the car; and
`he was driving at the time of arrest. But, according to the
`
`majority, that evidence was not enough to convict Ether-
`ton absent Pollie’s testimony. And that is where the tip
`came in. “Because much of Pollie’s testimony was reflect-
`ed in the content of the tip that was put before the jury,”
`the Sixth Circuit stated, “the jury could have improperly
`concluded that Pollie was thereby testifying truthfully—
`that it was unlikely for it to be a coincidence for his testi-
`mony to line up so well with the anonymous accusation.”
`800 F. 3d, at 753.
`In reaching these conclusions, the Sixth Circuit did not
`
`apply the appropriate standard of review under AEDPA.
`A “fairminded jurist” could conclude that repetition of the
`tip did not establish that the uncontested facts it conveyed
`
` were submitted for their truth. Such a jurist might reach
`that conclusion by placing weight on the fact that the
`truth of the facts was not disputed. No precedent of this
`Court clearly forecloses that view. It is also not beyond
`the realm of possibility that a fairminded jurist could
`conclude that Etherton was not prejudiced when the tip
`
`and Pollie’s testimony corresponded on uncontested facts.
`After all, Pollie himself was privy to all the information
`contained in the tip. A reasonable judge might accord-
`ingly regard the fact that the tip and Pollie’s testimony corre-
`sponded to be unremarkable and not pertinent to Pollie’s
`credibility. (In fact, the only point of Pollie’s testimony
`actually reflected in the tip was that he and Etherton were
`
` traveling between Detroit and Grand Rapids.)
`
`
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`

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`6
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`
` WOODS v. ETHERTON
`
`
`Per Curiam
`Etherton’s underlying complaint is that his appellate
`
`lawyer’s ineffectiveness meant he had “no prior opportu-
`nity to cross-examine the anonymous tipster.” Brief in
`
`Opposition 11. But it would not be objectively unreason-
`able for a fairminded judge to conclude—especially in light
`of the deference afforded trial counsel under Strickland—
`that the failure to raise such a claim was not due to in-
`competence but because the facts in the tip were uncon-
`tested and in any event consistent with Etherton’s de-
`fense. See Harrington, 562 U. S., at 105 (“Even under
`de novo review, the standard for judging counsel’s repre-
`sentation is a most deferential one.”). A fairminded jurist
`could similarly conclude, again deferring under Strick-
`land, that appellate counsel was not incompetent in draw-
`ing the same conclusion. And to reach the final point at
`issue before the Sixth Circuit, a fairminded jurist—
`applying the deference due the state court under AEDPA—
`could certainly conclude that the court was not objectively
`
`unreasonable in deciding that appellate counsel was not
`incompetent under Strickland, when she determined that
`trial counsel was not incompetent under Strickland.
`Given AEDPA, both Etherton’s appellate counsel and
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`the state habeas court were to be afforded the benefit of
`the doubt. Burt, supra, at ___. Because the Sixth Circuit
`failed on both counts, we grant the petition for certiorari
`and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
`
`
`
`
` It is so ordered.

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