544 U.S. 133 (2005), 03-1039, Brown v. Payton

Docket Nº:No. 03-1039
Citation:544 U.S. 133, 125 S.Ct. 1432, 161 L.Ed.2d 334, 73 U.S.L.W. 4223
Party Name:JILL L. BROWN, WARDEN, PETITIONER v. WILLIAM CHARLES PAYTON
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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544 U.S. 133 (2005)

125 S.Ct. 1432, 161 L.Ed.2d 334, 73 U.S.L.W. 4223

JILL L. BROWN, WARDEN, PETITIONER

v.

WILLIAM CHARLES PAYTON

No. 03-1039

United States Supreme Court

March 22, 2005

Argued November 10, 2004

In the penalty phase of respondent Payton's trial following his conviction on capital murder and related charges, his counsel presented witnesses who testified that, during the one year and nine months Payton had been incarcerated since his arrest, he had made a sincere commitment to God, participated in prison Bible study and a prison ministry, and had a calming effect on other prisoners. The trial judge gave jury instructions that followed verbatim the text of a California statute, setting forth 11 different factors, labeled (a) through (k), to guide the jury in determining whether to impose a death sentence or life imprisonment. The last such instruction, the so-called factor (k) instruction, directed jurors to consider "[a]ny other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime." In his closing, the prosecutor offered jurors his incorrect opinion that factor (k) did not allow them to consider anything that happened after the crime. Although he also told them several times that, in his view, they had not heard any evidence of mitigation, he discussed Payton's evidence in considerable detail and argued that the circumstances and facts of the case, coupled with Payton's prior violent acts, outweighed the mitigating effect of Payton's religious conversion. When the defense objected to the argument, the court admonished the jury that the prosecutor's comments were merely argument, but it did not explicitly instruct that the prosecutor's interpretation was incorrect. Finding the special circumstance f murder in the course of rape, the jury recommended that Payton be sentenced to death, and the judge complied. The California Supreme Court affirmed. Applying Boyde v. California, 494 U.S. 370, which had considered the constitutionality of the identical factor (k) instruction, the state court held that, considering the context of the proceedings, there was no reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was required to disregard Payton's mitigating evidence. The Federal District Court disagreed and granted Payton habeas relief, ruling also that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) did not apply. The en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed and, like the District Court, held that AEDPA did not apply. On remand from this Court in light of Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, the Ninth Circuit purported to decide the case under the deferential standard

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AEDPA mandates. It again affirmed, concluding that the California Supreme Court had unreasonably applied Boyds in holding the factor (k) instruction was not unconstitutionally ambiguous in Payton's case. The error, the court determined, was that the factor (k) instruction did not make it clear to the jury that it could consider the evidence concerning Payton's postcrime religious conversion and the prosecutor was allowed to urge this erroneous interpretation.

Held:

The Ninth Circuit's decision was contrary to the limits on federal habeas review imposed by AEDPA. Pp. 141-147.

(a) AEDPA provides that, when a habeas petitioner's claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court may not grant relief unless the state court's adjudication "resulted in a decision that 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 decision is contrary to this Court's clearly established precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in this Court's cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of this Court but reaches a different result. E. g., Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405. A state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of this Court's clearly established precedents if the state court applies such precedents to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner. E. g., ibid. These conditions have not been established. P. 141.

(b) In light of Boyde, the California Supreme Court cannot be said to have acted unreasonably in declining to distinguish between precrime and postcrime mitigating evidence. The California Supreme Court read Boyde as establishing that factor (k)'s text was broad enough toaccommodate Payton's postcrime mitigating evidence, but the NinthCircuit held that Boyde's reasoning did not control in this case becauseBoyde concerned precrime, not postcrime, mitigation evidence. However, Boyde held that factor (k) directed consideration of any circumstancethat might excuse the crime, see 494 U.S. at 382, and it is notunreasonable to believe that a postcrime character transformation coulddo so. Pp. 141-143.

(c) Even were the Court to assume that the California Supreme Courtwas incorrect in concluding that the prosecutor's argument and remarksdid not mislead the jury into believing it could not consider Payton'smitigation evidence, the state court's conclusion was not unreasonable,and is therefore just the type of decision that AEDPA shields on habeasreview. The state court's conclusion was an application of Boyde tosimilar but not identical facts. Considering the whole context of theproceedings, it was not unreasonable for the state court to determine

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that the jury most likely believed that the mitigation evidence, whilewithin the factor (k) instruction's reach, was simply too insubstantialto overcome the arguments for imposing the death penalty; nor wasit unreasonable for the state court to rely upon Boyde to support itsanalysis. Pp. 143-147.

346 P.3d 1204, reversed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, THOMAS, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurringopinion, in which THOMAS, J., joined, post, p. 147. BREYER, J., filed a concurringopinion, post, p. 148. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, inwhich STEVENS and GINSBURG, JJ., joined, post, p. 149. REHNQUIST, C. J.,took no part in the decision of the case.

A. Natalia Cortina, Deputy Attorney General of California,argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefswere Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Manuel M. Medeiros,State Solicitor General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief AssistantAttorney General, Gary W. Schons, Senior Assistant AttorneyGeneral, Steven T. Oetting, Supervising Deputy AttorneyGeneral, and Melissa A. Mandel, Deputy AttorneyGeneral.

Dean R. Gits argued the cause for respondent. With himon the brief were Maria E. Stratton, Mark R. Drozdowski,and Rosalie L. Rakoff.*

OPINION

KENNEDY, J.,

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, convening en banc, granted habeas relief to respondent William Payton. It held that the jury instructions in the penalty phase of his trial for capital murder did not permit consideration of all the mitigation evidence Payton presented. The error, the court determined, was that the general mitigation instruction did not make it clear to the jury that it could consider evidence concerning Payton's postcrime religious conversion and the prosecutor was allowed

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to urge this erroneous interpretation. We granted the petition for certiorari, 541 U.S. 1062 (2004), to decide whether the Ninth Circuit's decision was contrary to the limits on federal habeas review imposed by 28 U.S.C. §2254(d). We now reverse.

I

In 1980, while spending the night at a boarding house, Payton raped another boarder, Pamela Montgomery, and then used a butcher knife to stab her to death. Payton proceeded to enter the bedroom of the house's patron, Patricia Pensinger and to stab her as she slept aside her 10-year-old son, Blaine. When Blaine resisted, Payton started to stab him as well. Payton's knife blade bent, and he went to the kitchen to retrieve another. Upon the intervention of other boarders, Payton dropped the second knife and fled.

Payton was arrested and tried for the first-degree murder and rape of Pamela Montgomery and for the attempted murders of Patricia and Blaine Pensinger. Payton presented no evidence in the guilt phase of the trial and was convicted on all counts. The trial proceeded to the penalty phase, where the prosecutor introduced evidence of a prior incident when Payton stabbed a girlfriend; a prior conviction for rape; a prior drug-related felony conviction; and evidence of house conversations in which Payton admitted he had an "urge to kill" and a "severe problem with sex and women" that caused him to view all women as potential victims to "stab . . . and rape." People v. Payton, 3 Cal.4th 1050, 1058, 839 P.2d 1035, 1040 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Defense counsel concentrated on Payton's postcrime behavior and presented evidence from eight witnesses. They testified that in the year and nine months Payton spent in prison since his arrest, he had made a sincere commitment to God, participated in prison Bible study classes and a prison ministry, and had a calming effect on other prisoners.

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Before the penalty phase closing arguments, the judge held an in-chambers conference with counsel to discuss jury instructions. He proposed to give – and later did give – an instruction which followed verbatim the text of a California statute. Cal. Penal Code Ann. §190.3 (West 1988). The instruction set forth 11 different factors, labeled (a) through (k), for the jury to "consider, take into account and be guided by" in determining whether to impose a sentence of life imprisonment or death. 1 Cal. Jury Instr., Crim., No. 8.84.1 (4th rev. ed. 1979).

The in-chambers conference considered in particular the last instruction in the series, the so-called factor...

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