Lambrix v. Singletary, 965658

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSCALIA
Citation520 U.S. 518,117 S.Ct. 1517,137 L.Ed.2d 771
Docket Number965658
Decision Date12 May 1997
PartiesCary Michael LAMBRIX, Petitioner, v. Harry K. SINGLETARY, Jr., Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

520 U.S. 518
117 S.Ct. 1517
137 L.Ed.2d 771

Cary Michael LAMBRIX, Petitioner,

v.

Harry K. SINGLETARY, Jr., Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections.

No. 96-5658.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Jan. 15, 1997.
Decided May 12, 1997.
Syllabus *

In the sentencing phase of the trial at which petitioner Lambrix was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, the Florida state-court jury rendered an advisory verdict recommending death sentences on both counts. Finding numerous aggravating circumstances in connection with both murders, and no mitigating circumstances as to either, the trial court sentenced Lambrix to death on both counts. After his conviction and sentence were upheld on direct and collateral review by the Florida courts, he filed a habeas petition in the Federal District Court, which rejected all of his claims. While his appeal was pending before the Eleventh Circuit, this Court decided in Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854, that if the sentencing judge in a "weighing'' State (i.e., a State such as Florida that requires specified aggravating circumstances to be weighed against any mitigating circumstances at a capital trial's sentencing phase) is required to give deference to a jury's advisory sentencing recommendation, then neither the jury nor the judge is constitutionally permitted to weigh invalid aggravating circumstances. Since one of Lambrix's claims was that his sentencing jury was improperly instructed on the "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel'' aggravator, Espinosa had obvious relevance to his habeas petition. The Eleventh Circuit held its proceedings in abeyance to permit Lambrix to present his Espinosa claim to the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected the claim without considering its merits on the ground that the claim was procedurally barred. Without even acknowledging the procedural bar, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief, ruling that Espinosa announced a "new rule'' which cannot be applied retroactively on federal habeas under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334.

Held:

1.Although the question whether a federal court should resolve a claim of procedural bar before considering a claim of Teague bar has not previously been presented, the Court's opinions-most particularly, Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640-suggest that the procedural bar issue should ordinarily be considered first. The Court nonetheless chooses not to resolve this case on the procedural bar ground. Lambrix asserts several reasons why procedural bar does not apply, the validity of which is more appropriately determined by the lower federal courts, which are more familiar with the procedural practices of the States in which they sit. Rather than prolong this litigation by a remand, the Court proceeds to decide the question presented. Pp. ____-____.

2.A prisoner whose conviction became final before Espinosa is foreclosed from relying on that decision in a federal habeas proceeding. Pp. ____-____.

(a) To apply Teague, a federal habeas court must: (1) determine the date on which the defendant's conviction became final; (2) survey the legal landscape as it existed on that date to determine whether a state court then considering the defendant's claim would have felt compelled by existing precedent to conclude that the rule the defendant seeks was constitutionally required; and (3) if not, consider whether the relief sought falls within one of two narrow exceptions to nonretroactivity. Pp. ____-____.

(b) A survey of the legal landscape as of the date that Lambrix's conviction became final shows that Espinosa was not dictated by then-existing precedent, but announced a "new rule'' as defined in Teague. It is significant that Espinosa, supra, at 1082, 112 S.Ct., at 2928-2929, cited only a single case in support of its central conclusion, Baldwin v. Alabama, 472 U.S. 372, 382, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 2733, 86 L.Ed.2d 300, and introduced that lone citation with a "cf.''-an introductory signal indicating authority that supports the point in dictum or by analogy. Baldwin states, on the page that Espinosa cites, 472 U.S., at 382, 105 S.Ct., at 2733, that the defendant's Espinosa -like argument "conceivably might have merit'' in circumstances not present in that case. The decisions relied on most heavily by Lambrix-Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 100 S.Ct. 1759, 64 L.Ed.2d 398; Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 100 L.Ed.2d 372; and Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U.S. 738, 110 S.Ct. 1441, 108 L.Ed.2d 725-do not dictate the result ultimately reached in Espinosa. Rather, a close examination of the Florida death-penalty scheme, in light of cases such as Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 253, 96 S.Ct. 2960, 2967, 49 L.Ed.2d 913 (joint opinion); id., at 260-261, 96 S.Ct., at 2970-2971 (White, J., concurring in judgment); and Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 451, 466, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 3157, 3165-3166, 82 L.Ed.2d 340, indicates that a reasonable jurist considering the matter at the time Lambrix's sentence became final could have reached a result different from Espinosa. That conclusion is confirmed by Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 653-654, 110 S.Ct. 3047, 3057-3058, 111 L.Ed.2d 511. The fact that Espinosa was handed down as a per curiam without oral argument is insignificant, since the decision followed by just three weeks Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. 527, 112 S.Ct. 2114, 119 L.Ed.2d 326, in which the identical issue was fully briefed and argued, but could not be decided for jurisdictional reasons. Pp. ____-____.

(c)— Espinosa's new rule does not fall within either of the exceptions to this Court's nonretroactivity doctrine. The first exception plainly has no application, since Espinosa neither decriminalizes a class of conduct nor prohibits the imposition of capital punishment on a particular class of persons. E.g., Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 494-495, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 1263-1264, 108 L.Ed.2d 415. Lambrix does not contend that the second exception- for watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the criminal proceeding's fundamental fairness and accuracy-applies to Espinosa errors, and Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U.S. 227, 241-244, 110 S.Ct. 2822, 2830-2833, 111 L.Ed.2d 193, makes clear that it does not. Pp. ____-____.

72 F.3d 1500, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Matthew C. Lawry, Philadelphia, PA, appointed by this Court, for petitioner.

Carol M. Dittmar, Tampa, FL, for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether a prisoner whose conviction became final before our decision in Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992), is foreclosed from relying on that decision in a federal habeas corpus proceeding because it announced a "new rule'' as defined in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989).

I

On February 5, 1983, Cary Michael Lambrix and his girlfriend, Francis Smith, met Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant at a local tavern. The two couples returned to Lambrix's trailer for dinner, where Lambrix killed Moore and Bryant in brutal fashion. Lambrix was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. In the sentencing phase of trial, the jury rendered an advisory verdict recommending that the trial court sentence Lambrix to death on both counts. The trial court, after finding five aggravating circumstances in connection with the murder of Moore, four aggravating circumstances in connection with the murder of Bryant, and no mitigating circumstances as to either murder, sentenced Lambrix to death on both counts. Lambrix's conviction and sentence were upheld on direct appeal by the Florida Supreme Court. Lambrix v. State, 494 So.2d 1143 (Fla.1986).

After the Florida courts denied his repeated efforts to obtain collateral relief, Lambrix v. Dugger, 529 So.2d 1110 (Fla.1988); Lambrix v. State, 534 So.2d 1151 (Fla.1988); Lambrix v. State, 559 So.2d 1137 (Fla.1990), Lambrix filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida; that court rejected all of his claims. While Lambrix's appeal was pending before the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, this Court decided Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992), which held that if the sentencing judge in a "weighing'' State (i.e., a State that requires specified aggravating circumstances to be weighed against any mitigating circumstances at the sentencing phase of a capital trial) is required to give deference to a jury's advisory sentencing recommendation, then neither the jury nor the judge is constitutionally permitted to weigh invalid aggravating circumstances. Since Florida is such a State, and since one of Lambrix's claims was that his sentencing jury was improperly instructed on the "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel'' (HAC) aggravator, Espinosa had obvious relevance to his habeas petition. Rather than address this issue in the first instance, however, the Eleventh Circuit held its proceedings in abeyance to permit Lambrix to present his Espinosa claim to the Florida state courts.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected Lambrix's Espinosa claim without considering its merits on the ground that the claim was procedurally barred. Lambrix v. Singletary, 641 So.2d 847 (Fla.1994). That court explained that although Lambrix had properly preserved his Espinosa objection at trial by requesting a limiting instruction on the HAC aggravator, he had failed to raise the issue on direct appeal. 641 So.2d, at 848. The Florida Supreme Court also rejected Lambrix's...

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1637 practice notes
  • Keenan v. Bagley, CASE NO. 1:01 CV 2139
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2012
    ...claims are meritless. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) (courts may deny unexhausted habeas petitions on the merits); Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997) (courts may skip complicated "procedural-bar issues" if the merits are "easily resolvable against the habeas petitioner"). 2. Merits......
  • Jones v. Mcneil, Case No: 07-22890-CIV-ZLOCH
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • March 7, 2011
    ...conduct the procedural bar analysis argued by the State because the Court finds this claim to be without merit. See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 52 5 (1997)(citing 28 U.S.C. § A State's procedural rules are of vital importance to the orderly administration of its criminal courts; wh......
  • Breedlove v. Moore, No. 98-0953-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • September 8, 1999
    ...States Supreme Court has ruled that Espinosa was not clearly established law at the time of petitioner's trial. Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 528, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 1525, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). To the contrary, Espinosa announced a "new rule" which, under the authority of Teague v. La......
  • Pike v. Guarino, No. 06-1019.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 2, 2007
    ...if the state court has denied relief on that claim on independent and adequate state procedural grounds. See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 522-23, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). Second, a claim is procedurally defaulted if it was not presented to the state courts and it is c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1645 cases
  • Keenan v. Bagley, CASE NO. 1:01 CV 2139
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2012
    ...claims are meritless. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) (courts may deny unexhausted habeas petitions on the merits); Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997) (courts may skip complicated "procedural-bar issues" if the merits are "easily resolvable against the habeas petitioner"). 2. Merits......
  • Jones v. Mcneil, Case No: 07-22890-CIV-ZLOCH
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • March 7, 2011
    ...conduct the procedural bar analysis argued by the State because the Court finds this claim to be without merit. See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 52 5 (1997)(citing 28 U.S.C. § A State's procedural rules are of vital importance to the orderly administration of its criminal courts; wh......
  • Breedlove v. Moore, No. 98-0953-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • September 8, 1999
    ...States Supreme Court has ruled that Espinosa was not clearly established law at the time of petitioner's trial. Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 528, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 1525, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). To the contrary, Espinosa announced a "new rule" which, under the authority of Teague v. La......
  • Pike v. Guarino, No. 06-1019.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 2, 2007
    ...if the state court has denied relief on that claim on independent and adequate state procedural grounds. See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 522-23, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). Second, a claim is procedurally defaulted if it was not presented to the state courts and it is c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008)Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436 (1986)Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995)Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518 (1997)Lankford v. Idaho, 500 U.S. 110 (1991)Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U.S. 327 (2007)Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764 (1990)Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S.......
  • Article III Separation of Powers, Standing, and the Rejection of a 'Public Rights' Model of Environmental Citizen Suits
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part II
    • April 20, 2009
    ...17 ; and, as was true in Muskrat , attempts by plaintiffs to have 13. Id . at 361-62. 14. Id . at 362. 15. Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 522-23 (1997); Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. 527, 533-34 & n.112 (1992); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991); Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255,......

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