Langley v. Prince, 16-30486

Citation926 F.3d 145
Decision Date06 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 16-30486,16-30486
Parties Ricky LANGLEY, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Howard PRINCE, Warden, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)

Richard John Bourke, Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, New Orleans, LA, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Cynthia S. Killingsworth, Carla Sue Sigler, Karen C. McLellan, District Attorney's Office for the Parish of Calcasieu, Lake Charles, LA, Elizabeth Baker Murrill, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, Colin Andrew Clark, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the State of Louisiana, Andrea Barient, Louisiana Department of Justice, Baton Rouge, LA, Jeffrey Matthew Harris, Consovoy McCarthy Park, P.L.L.C., Arlington, VA, for Respondent-Appellee.

Kyle Douglas Hawkins, Bill L. Davis, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Solicitor General, Matthew Hamilton Frederick, Deputy Solicitor General, Office of the Solicitor General for the State of Texas, Austin, TX, for Amicus Curiae State of Texas.



A Louisiana jury convicted Ricky Langley of second-degree murder. The state court overturned that conviction on direct appeal. So the State retried Langley and re-convicted him. Langley now seeks federal habeas relief. He argues his prior conviction should be construed as an implicit acquittal that bars the re-conviction and allows him to walk free. We disagree.


While on parole for a prior child-molestation conviction, Ricky Langley choked a six-year-old boy into unconsciousness and then, to ensure the child was dead, strangled him with a ligature and shoved a sock into the child’s mouth. Langley stuffed the boy’s corpse in a bedroom closet and lied to the child’s mother when she came looking for her son. Langley then waived his Miranda rights and repeatedly confessed on video to molesting and killing the boy. Police found the child’s body, wearing a t-shirt soaked in Langley’s semen, in the closet where Langley left him.

The State of Louisiana thrice tried and thrice convicted Langley for his heinous crime. The second and third trials lie at the heart of this case. But we explain all three for the sake of completeness.

Langley I. A Louisiana jury unanimously convicted Langley of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. For reasons unrelated to this case, Langley’s first conviction was remanded on direct appeal in state court. See State v. Langley (Langley I ), 711 So. 2d 651, 675 (La. 1998) (per curiam) (granting rehearing in part and remanding); see also State v. Langley , 813 So. 2d 356, 358 (La. 2002) (quashing the indictment due to improper selection of the grand jury foreperson). So the State retried him for murder.

Langley II . At the second trial, the jury unanimously convicted Langley of murder once again. This time, however, the jury issued a verdict of second-degree murder. For reasons again unrelated to the appeal before us today, the second jury’s verdict was also overturned on direct appeal in state court. See State v. Langley (Langley II ), 896 So. 2d 200, 201 (La. Ct. App. 2004). So the State again retried Langley for murder.

Langley III. Before the third trial, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court held the second-degree murder conviction precluded the State from retrying Langley for first-degree murder. See State v. Langley (Langley III ), 958 So. 2d 1160, 1170 (La. 2007). The court based its holding on state law. Ibid. (citing LA. CONST . art. I, § 17 (A); LA. STAT. ANN . § 14:30.1 ; LA. CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN . arts. 598(A), 782(A), 841(A) ). But its holding accords with longstanding double jeopardy law because, "[h]istorically, courts have treated greater and lesser-included offenses as the same offense for double jeopardy purposes, so a conviction on one normally precludes a later trial on the other." Currier v. Virginia , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 2144, 2150, 201 L.Ed.2d 650 (2018).

Therefore, at Langley’s third trial, the State charged him only with second-degree murder. Having lost before two juries, Langley decided to try his luck with a bench trial the third time around. Given the facts and his repeated videotaped confessions, however, the trial judge convicted him of second-degree murder. The court found as a matter of fact that Langley had specific intent to kill because, after their "sexual encounter," Langley thought death would "do this little boy a favor." The court again sentenced Langley to life in prison.

Langley again appealed. This time he argued the Double Jeopardy Clause should have prohibited the State from retrying him for second-degree specific-intent murder. That result is compelled, Langley said, by Ashe v. Swenson , 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970). Ashe identified a "collateral estoppel" "ingredient" in the Double Jeopardy Clause and held it precludes a retrial for any issue necessarily determined by a jury’s general verdict of acquittal. See id. at 442–45, 90 S.Ct. 1189. Of course, Langley was not acquitted of second-degree murder in Langley II ; he was convicted . Langley nonetheless argued Ashe should be extended to his facts. Langley reasoned the jury—which simply adjudged him "GUILTY," without specifying why—logically must have based its verdict on second-degree felony murder. If so, Langley hypothesized, the Langley II jury could’ve determined he lacked specific intent. And if all these hypotheses and deductions are true, Langley concluded, the State should be barred from retrying him for any offense that has specific intent as an element—including second-degree specific-intent murder.

The state courts rejected Langley’s effort to extend Ashe . See State v. Langley (Langley IV ), 61 So. 3d 747, 756–58 (La. Ct. App. 2011), cert. denied , 78 So. 3d 139 (La. 2012). The state appellate court first evaluated the record "to discern which facts were ‘necessarily determined’ " by the jury’s guilty verdict in Langley II . 61 So. 3d at 757. The only way to determine what the jury actually and necessarily determined is to evaluate what the jury actually and necessarily did—namely, convict Langley of second-degree murder. Although the state court recognized it was "possible that the jury verdict was based on a jury finding under the felony-murder rule," the court noted it was equally likely the jury based its verdict on second-degree specific-intent murder as an alternative to first-degree murder. Ibid. It was also possible the jury convicted Langley of second-degree murder as a "compromise verdict"—that is, a verdict that did not reflect the jury’s actual findings, but instead represented a compromise punishment of life in prison that was palatable to all jurors. Ibid . Because the jury could have reached its second-degree murder conviction without necessarily finding Langley lacked specific intent to kill, the Louisiana court held Langley "ha[d] not carried his burden of proving that the element of specific intent was actually decided [in his favor] in the previous trial" to preclude the relitigation of that issue in the third trial. Id. at 758.

Langley filed a federal habeas petition. The district court denied it. See Langley v. Prince , No. 2:13-cv-2780, 2016 WL 1383466, at *1 (W.D. La. Apr. 6, 2016). A panel of our Court, however, reversed and concluded not only that the state court’s opinion was wrong, but that it was "objectively unreasonable." Langley v. Prince , 890 F.3d 504, 521–23 (5th Cir. 2018). That decision would’ve allowed Langley to walk free. But we vacated it upon granting rehearing en banc .


This case implicates constitutional law, the equitable doctrine of estoppel, and statutory text. We address each in turn. We first explain the common-law and constitutional background of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Then we explain how Ashe and collateral estoppel fit into that background. Lastly, we explain how our application of Ashe is affected by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214.


The Double Jeopardy Clause originates in the common-law plea autrefois acquit , meaning "prior acquittal," and the related plea autrefois convict . As Sir Edward Coke described it, "the maxim of the common law is, that the life of a man shall not be twice ... put in jeopardy for one and the same offence, and that is the reason and cause that auterfoits acquitted or convicted of the same offence is a good plea." Vaux’s Case (1591), 76 Eng. Rep. 992, 993; 4 Co. Rep. 44a, 45a (K.B.). But as far back as Vaux’s Case , the plea of prior acquittal was not always a get-out-of-jail-free card. Only some verdicts of acquittal in the first trial would effectively bar a second. See ibid. (discussing some qualifications to the plea); EDWARD COKE, THE THIRD PART OF THE INSTITUTES OF THE LAWS OF ENGLAND 214 (1st ed. 1644) (same); 2 MATTHEW HALE, HISTORIA PLACITORUM CORONÆ 393–95 (1st ed. 1736) (same).

Our Double Jeopardy Clause was framed against this background. James Madison’s first draft of that Clause stated: "No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment or one trial for the same offence." 1 ANNALS OF CONG . 451–52 (1789) (Joseph Gales ed., 1834). Representative Egbert Benson objected because the draft varied from "the right heretofore established" by the common law. Id. at 781. To cure the defect, Benson suggested striking the phrase regarding "one trial." Id. at 782. Representative Roger Sherman agreed. He reasoned, "if [the defendant] was convicted on the first [trial], and any thing should appear to set the judgment aside, he was entitled to a second, which was certainly favorable to him." Ibid. The...

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