Recent Decisions

2018 Term Decisions of Interest to Capital Habeas Practitioners

Flowers v. Mississippi, 588 U.S. ___, 139 S.Ct. 2228 (2019) - The trial court clearly erred in denying a Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), challenge to the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory strikes at petitioner’s Mississippi capital trial. In reaching that conclusion, the Court relied upon indicia of discriminatory intent including the prosecutor’s history of removing as many African-American prospective jurors as possible through each of petitioner’s five prior trials, excessively disparate voir dire questioning of black and white panelists, and comparative analysis indicating that at least one struck panelist was materially distinguishable from an accepted white panelist only on the basis of race.

Gamble v. United States, 587 U.S. ___, 139 S.Ct. 1960 (2019) - The Court rejected a request to overrule the “dual-sovereignty doctrine” applicable to the Double Jeopardy clause, under which “a State may prosecute a defendant under state law even if the Federal Government has prosecuted him for the same conduct under a federal statute,” “[o]r the reverse may happen ....”

Bucklew v. Precythe, 587 U.S. ___ (April 1, 2019) -  Baze and Glossip govern all Eighth Amendment method of execution challenges including Bucklew’s as-applied argument that the State’s method of execution would inflict unconstitutionally cruel pain on him because of his particular medical condition. Bucklew failed to satisfy the Baze-Glossip test.  For two independent reasons he did not present a triable question on the viability of nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to the State’s lethal injection protocol.  First, Bucklew failed to offer a sufficiently detailed proposal to permit a finding that the State could carry it out relatively easily and reasonably quickly. Second, the State had a “legitimate” reason for declining to switch from its current method of execution as a matter of law – namely, choosing not to be the first to experiment with a new, “untried and untested” method of execution.  Finally, even if nitrogen hypoxia were a viable alternative, neither of Bucklew’s theories showed that nitrogen hypoxia would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.  

Madison v. Alabama, 586 U.S. ___ (Feb. 27, 2019) -  Under Ford and Panetti, the Eighth Amendment may permit executing a prisoner even if he cannot remember committing his crime.  The Eighth Amendment applies similarly to those experiencing psychotic delusions and those suffering from dementia. The issue is whether the condition impedes the requisite comprehension of the punishment.  Remand for renewed consideration of Madison’s competency. 

Garza v. Idaho, 586 U.S. ___ (Feb. 27, 2019) - Trial counsel performed deficiently in failing to file a notice of appeal as requested by his client even though defendant’s plea agreement contained an appeal waiver.  The presumption of prejudice recognized in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U. S. 470, applied despite the waiver of appeal. 

Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___  (Feb. 20, 2019) - The Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. 

Moore v. Texas, 586 U.S. ___ (Feb. 19, 2019) (per curiam) - Reversing the ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) that Moore did not prove he is intellectually disabled.  In a prior decision reversing the TCCA in Moore’s case, the Supreme Court identified at least five errors made by the TCCA in its analysis of Moore’s adaptive functioning.  “After reviewing the trial court record and the court of appeals’ opinion, we agree with Moore that the appeals court’s determination is inconsistent with our opinion in Moore. We have found in its opinion too many instances in which, with small variations, it repeats the analysis we previously found wanting, and these same parts are critical to its ultimate conclusion.”  On the basis of the trial court record, “Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.” 

Stokeling v. United States, 586 U.S. ___ (Jan. 15, 2019) -  Stokeling’s prior Florida robbery conviction qualified as a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  The ACCA defines “violent felony,”  in relevant part, as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another,” §924(e)(2)(B)(i).  ACCA’s elements clause encompasses a robbery offense like Florida’s that requires the defendant to overcome the victim’s resistance. 

Shoop v. Hill, 586 U.S. ___ (Jan. 7, 2019) (per curiam) - Reversing ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that the state court’s rejection of Hill’s claim that he is ineligible for the death penalty due to his intellectual disability was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent at the time of the state court decisions.  In reaching its conclusion, the Sixth Circuit “relied repeatedly and extensively on . . . Moore v. Texas, 581 U. S. ___ (2017), which was not handed down until long after the state-court decisions.”  Such reliance “was plainly improper under §2254(d)(1).”  The Sixth Circuit’s decision is vacated and the case remanded so that Hill’s claim regarding intellectual disability can be evaluated based solely on Supreme Court precedent that was clearly established at the relevant time.