Renico v. Lett, 09–338.

Decision Date03 May 2010
Docket NumberNo. 09–338.,09–338.
PartiesPaul RENICO, Warden, Petitioner, v. Reginald LETT.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Joel D. McGormley

, for petitioner.

Marla R. McCowan

, Detroit, MI, appointed by this Court, for the respondent.

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, B. Eric Restuccia

, Michigan Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Lansing, MI, Joel D. McGormley, Division Chief, Laura L. Moody, First Assistant, Appellate Division, for Petitioner.

Jeffrey T. Green

, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, D.C., Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Chicago, IL, Marla Rose McCowan, Counsel of Record, Michael Mittlestat, Assistant Defenders, State Appellate Defender Office of Michigan, Detroit, MI, for Respondent.Opinion

Chief Justice ROBERTS

delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to review the grant of a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)

. The District Court in this case issued the writ to respondent Reginald Lett on the ground that his Michigan murder conviction violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. In doing so, however, these courts misapplied AEDPA's deferential standard of review. Because we conclude that the Michigan Supreme Court's application of federal law was not unreasonable, we reverse.


On August 29, 1996, an argument broke out in a Detroit liquor store. The antagonists included Adesoji Latona, a taxi driver; Charles Jones, a passenger who claimed he had been wrongfully ejected from Latona's cab; and Reginald Lett, a friend of Jones's. After the argument began, Lett left the liquor store, retrieved a handgun from another friend outside in the parking lot, and returned to the store. He shot Latona twice, once in the head and once in the chest. Latona died from his wounds

shortly thereafter. See People v. Lett, 466 Mich. 206, 208–209, 644 N.W.2d 743, 745 (2002).

Michigan prosecutors charged Lett with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. His trial took place in June 1997. From jury selection to jury instructions the trial took less than nine hours, spread over six different days. Id., at 209, 644 N.W.2d, at 745


The jury's deliberations began on June 12, 1997, at 3:24 p.m., and ran that day until 4 p.m. Id., at 209, n. 1, 644 N.W.2d, at 745, n. 1.

After resuming its work the next morning, the jury sent the trial court a note—one of seven it sent out in its two days of deliberations—stating that the jurors had ‘a concern about our voice levels disturbing any other proceedings that might be going on.’ Id., at 209, n. 2, 644 N.W.2d, at 745, n. 2. Later, the jury sent out another note, asking ‘What if we can't agree? [M]istrial? [R]etrial? [W]hat?’ Id., at 209, 644 N.W.2d, at 745.

The trial transcript does not reveal whether the judge discussed the jury's query with counsel, off the record, upon receiving this last communication. Id., at 209, n. 3, 644 N.W.2d, at 745, n. 3.

What is clear is that at 12:45 p.m. the judge called the jury back into the courtroom, along with the prosecutor and defense counsel. Once the jury was seated, the following exchange took place:

“THE COURT: I received your note asking me what if you can't agree? And I have to conclude from that that that is your situation at this time. So, I'd like to ask the foreperson to identify themselves, please?
“THE FOREPERSON: [Identified herself.]
“THE COURT: Okay, thank you. All right. I need to ask you if the jury is deadlocked; in other words, is there a disagreement as to the verdict?
“THE FOREPERSON: Yes, there is.
“THE COURT: All right. Do you believe that it is hopelessly deadlocked?
“THE FOREPERSON: The majority of us don't believe that—
“THE COURT: (Interposing) Don't say what you're going to say, okay?
“THE FOREPERSON: Oh, I'm sorry.
“THE COURT: I don't want to know what your verdict might be, or how the split is, or any of that. Thank you. Okay? Are you going to reach a unanimous verdict, or not?
“THE FOREPERSON: (No response)
“THE COURT: Yes or no?
“THE FOREPERSON: No, Judge. Tr. in No. 96–08252 (Recorder's Court, Detroit, Mich.), pp. 319–320.

The judge then declared a mistrial, dismissed the jury, and scheduled a new trial for later that year. Neither the prosecutor nor Lett's attorney made any objection.

Lett's second trial was held before a different judge and jury in November 1997. This time, the jury was able to reach a unanimous verdict—that Lett was guilty of second-degree murder—after deliberating for only 3 hours and 15 minutes. Lett, supra, at 210, and n. 4, 644 N.W.2d, at 746, and n. 4


Lett appealed his conviction to the Michigan Court of Appeals. He argued that the judge in his first trial had announced a mistrial without any manifest necessity for doing so. Because the mistrial was an error, Lett maintained, the State was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution from trying him a second time. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Lett and reversed his conviction.

The State appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which reversed the Court of Appeals. The court explained that under our decision in United States v. Perez, 9 Wheat. 579, 6 L.Ed. 165 (1824)

, a defendant may be retried following the discharge of a deadlocked jury, even if the discharge occurs without the defendant's consent. Lett, 466 Mich., at 216–217, 644 N.W.2d, at 749. There is no Double Jeopardy Clause violation in such circumstances, it noted, so long as the trial court exercised its ‘sound discretion’ in concluding that the jury was deadlocked and thus that there was a ‘manifest necessity’ for a mistrial. Ibid.

(quoting Perez,

supra, at 580; emphasis deleted). The court further observed that, under our decision in Arizona v. Washington, 434 U.S. 497, 506–510, 98 S.Ct. 824, 54 L.Ed.2d 717 (1978), an appellate court must generally defer to a trial judge's determination that a deadlock has been reached. 466 Mich., at 218–222, 644 N.W.2d, at 750–752.

After setting forth the applicable law, the Michigan Supreme Court determined that the judge at Lett's first trial had not abused her discretion in declaring the mistrial. Id., at 223, 644 N.W.2d, at 753.

The court cited the facts that the jury “had deliberated for at least four hours following a relatively short, and far from complex, trial,” that the jury had sent out several notes, “including one that appears to indicate that its discussions may have been particularly heated,” and—[m]ost important”“that the jury foreperson expressly stated that the jury was not going to reach a verdict.” Ibid.

Lett petitioned for a federal writ of habeas corpus. Again he argued that the trial court's declaration of a mistrial constituted an abuse of discretion because there was no manifest necessity to cut short the jury's deliberations. He further contended that the Michigan Supreme Court's rejection of his double jeopardy claim amounted to “an unreasonable application of ... clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” and thus that he was not barred by AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)

, from obtaining federal habeas relief. The District Court agreed and granted the writ. 507 F.Supp.2d 777 (E.D.Mich.2007). On appeal, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 316 Fed.Appx. 421 (2009). The State petitioned for review in our Court, and we granted certiorari. 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 743, 175 L.Ed.2d 513 (2009).


It is important at the outset to define the question before us. That question is not whether the trial judge should have declared a mistrial. It is not even whether it was an abuse of discretion for her to have done so—the applicable standard on direct review. The question under AEDPA is instead whether the determination of the Michigan Supreme Court that there was no abuse of discretion was “an unreasonable application of ... clearly established Federal law.” § 2254(d)(1)


We have explained that “an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)

. Indeed, “a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id., at 411, 120 S.Ct. 1495. Rather, that application must be “objectively unreasonable.” Id., at 409, 120 S.Ct. 1495. This distinction creates “a substantially higher threshold” for obtaining relief than de novo review. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473, 127 S.Ct. 1933, 167 L.Ed.2d 836 (2007). AEDPA thus imposes a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,” Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997), and “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt,” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002) (per curiam ).1

The “clearly established Federal law” in this area is largely undisputed. In Perez,

we held that when a judge discharges a jury on the grounds that the jury cannot reach a verdict, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar a new trial for the defendant before a new jury. 9 Wheat., at 579–580, 6 L.Ed. 165.

We explained that trial judges may declare a mistrial “whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity” for doing so. Id., at 580.

The decision to declare a mistrial is left to the “sound discretion” of the judge, but “the power ought to be used with the greatest caution, under urgent circumstances, and for very plain and obvious causes.” Ibid.

Since Perez,

we have clarified that the “manifest necessity” standard “cannot be interpreted literally,” and that a...

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