556 U.S. 449 (2009), 07-1114, Cone v. Bell
|Citation:||556 U.S. 449, 129 S.Ct. 1769, 173 L.Ed.2d 701, 77 U.S.L.W. 4322|
|Party Name:||Gary Bradford CONE, Petitioner, v. Ricky BELL, Warden.|
|Case Date:||April 28, 2009|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued December 9, 2008
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
[129 S.Ct. 1770] Syllabus[*]
After the State discredited petitioner Cone's defense that he killed two people while suffering from acute psychosis caused by drug addiction, he was convicted and sentenced to death. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal and the state courts denied postconviction relief. Later, in a second petition for state postconviction relief, Cone raised the claim that the State had violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215, by suppressing witness statements and police reports that would have corroborated his insanity defense and bolstered his case in mitigation of the death penalty. The postconviction court denied him a hearing on the ground that the [129 S.Ct. 1771] Brady claim had been previously determined, either on direct appeal or in earlier collateral proceedings. The State Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Cone then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court. That Court denied relief, holding the Brady claim procedurally barred because the state courts' disposition rested on adequate and independent state grounds: Cone had waived it by failing to present his claim in state court. Even if he had not defaulted the claim, ruled the court, it would fail on its merits because none of the withheld evidence would have cast doubt on his guilt. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the latter conclusion, but considered itself barred from reaching the claim's merits because the state courts had ruled the claim previously determined or waived under state law.
1. The state courts' rejection of Cone's Brady claim does not rest on a ground that bars federal review. Neither of the State's asserted justifications for such a bar—that the claim was decided by the State Supreme Court on direct review or that Cone had waived it by never properly raising it in state court—provides an independent and adequate state ground for denying review of Cone's federal claim. The state postconviction court's denial of the Brady claim on the ground it had been previously determined in state court rested on a false premise: Cone had not presented the claim in earlier proceedings and, consequently, the state courts had not passed on it. The Sixth Circuit's rejection of the claim as procedurally defaulted because it had been twice presented to the Tennessee courts was thus erroneous. Also unpersuasive
is the State's alternative argument that federal review is barred because the Brady claim was properly dismissed by the state postconviction courts as waived. Those courts held only that the claim had been previously determined, and this Court will not second-guess their judgment. Because the claim was properly preserved and exhausted in state court, it is not defaulted. Pp. 1779 - 1782.
2. The lower federal courts failed to adequately consider whether the withheld documents were material to Cone's sentence. Both the quantity and quality of the suppressed evidence lend support to Cone's trial position that he habitually used excessive amounts of drugs, that his addiction affected his behavior during the murders, and that the State's contrary arguments were false and misleading. Nevertheless, even when viewed in the light most favorable to Cone, the evidence does not sustain his insanity defense: His behavior before, during, and after the crimes was inconsistent with the contention that he lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform it to the requirements of law. Because the likelihood that the suppressed evidence would have affected the jury's verdict on the insanity issue is remote, the Sixth Circuit did not err by denying habeas relief on the ground that such evidence was immaterial to the jury's guilt finding. The same cannot be said of that court's summary treatment of Cone's claim that the suppressed evidence would have influenced the jury's sentencing recommendation. Because the suppressed evidence might have been material to the jury's assessment of the proper punishment, a full review of that evidence and its effect on the sentencing verdict is warranted. Pp. 1782 -1786.
492 F.3d 743, vacated and remanded.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, SOUTER, GlNSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. ROBERTS, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. [129 S.Ct. 1772] ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined
Thomas C. Goldstein, Washington, DC, for petitioner
Jennifer L. Smith, Nashville, TN, for respondent.
Pamela S. Karlan, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Stanford Law School, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford, CA, Paul R. Bottei, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville, TN, Thomas C. Goldstein, Counsel of Record, Patricia A. Millett, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, Amy Howe, Kevin K. Russell, Howe & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, MD, for petitioner.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General & Reporter, State of Tennessee, Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General, Jennifer L. Smith, Associate Deputy Attorney General, Counsel of Record, Office of the Attorney General, Nashville, TN, for respondent.
The right to a fair trial, guaranteed to state criminal defendants by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, imposes on States certain duties consistent with their sovereign obligation to ensure "that 'justice shall be done'" in all criminal prosecutions. United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 111, 96 S.Ct. 2392, 49 L.Ed.2d 342 (1976) (quoting Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88, 55 S.Ct. 629, 79 L.Ed. 1314 (1935)). In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), we held that when a State suppresses evidence favorable to an accused that is material to guilt or to punishment, the State violates the defendant's right to due process, "irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." Id., at 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194.
In this case, Gary Cone, a Vietnam veteran sentenced to death, contends that the State of Tennessee violated his right to due process by suppressing witness statements and police reports that would have corroborated his trial defense and bolstered his case in mitigation of the death penalty. At his trial in 1982, Cone asserted an insanity defense, contending that he had killed two people while suffering from acute amphetamine psychosis, a disorder caused by drug addiction. The State of Tennessee discredited that defense, alleging that Cone's drug addiction was "baloney." Ten years later, Cone learned that the State had suppressed evidence supporting his claim of drug addiction.
Cone presented his new evidence to the state courts in a petition for postconviction relief, but the Tennessee courts
denied him a hearing on the ground that his Brady claim had been "previously determined," either on direct appeal from his conviction or in earlier collateral proceedings. On application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254, the Federal District Court concluded that the state courts' disposition rested on an adequate and independent state ground that barred further review in federal court, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed. Doubt concerning the correctness of that holding, coupled with conflicting decisions from other Courts of Appeals, prompted our grant of certiorari.
After a complete review of the trial and postconviction proceedings, we conclude [129 S.Ct. 1773] that the Tennessee courts' rejection of petitioner's Brady claim does not rest on a ground that bars federal review. Furthermore, although the District Court and the Court of Appeals passed briefly on the merits of Cone's claim, neither court distinguished the materiality of the suppressed evidence with respect to Cone's guilt from the materiality of the evidence with respect to his punishment. While we agree that the withheld documents were not material to the question whether Cone committed murder with the requisite mental state, the lower courts failed to adequately consider whether that same evidence was material to Cone's sentence. Therefore, we vacate the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the District Court to determine in the first instance whether there is a reasonable probability that the withheld evidence would have altered at least one juror's assessment of the appropriate penalty for Cone's crimes.
On the afternoon of Saturday, August 10, 1980, Cone robbed a jewelry store in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Fleeing the scene by car, he led police on a high-speed chase
into a residential neighborhood. Once there, he abandoned his vehicle and shot a police officer.1 When a bystander tried to impede his escape, Cone shot him, too, before escaping on foot.
A short time later, Cone tried to hijack a nearby car. When that attempt failed (because the driver refused to surrender his keys), Cone tried to shoot the driver and a hovering police helicopter before realizing he had run out of ammunition. He then fled the scene. Although police conducted a thorough search, Cone was nowhere to be found.
Early the next morning, Cone reappeared in the same neighborhood at the door of an elderly woman. He asked to use her telephone, and when she refused, he drew a gun. Before he...
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