Sprouse v. Stephens, No. 13–70018.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtJERRY E. SMITH
Citation748 F.3d 609
Docket NumberNo. 13–70018.
Decision Date07 April 2014
PartiesKent William SPROUSE, Petitioner–Appellant, v. William STEPHENS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent–Appellee.

748 F.3d 609

Kent William SPROUSE, Petitioner–Appellant,
v.
William STEPHENS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent–Appellee.

No. 13–70018.

United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.

April 7, 2014.


[748 F.3d 611]


F. Clinton Broden (argued), Broden & Mickelsen, John Michael Helms, Jr., Esq., Helms, Roberts & Diaz, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, for Petitioner–Appellant.

Fredericka Searle Sargent, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew Hamilton Frederick (argued), Assistant Solicitor General, Office of the Solicitor General for the State of Texas, Austin, TX, for Respondent–Appellee.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Before SMITH, PRADO, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:

A jury found Kent Sprouse guilty of the capital murder of a police officer, and he

[748 F.3d 612]

was sentenced to death. Among many other issues raised on direct appeal and on state habeas corpus review, Sprouse challenged the jury instructions given during the punishment phase of his trial. He claimed that the instructions, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, effectively precluded the jury from considering voluntary intoxication as mitigating evidence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) rejected that argument. On federal habeas review, Sprouse contends that the state court unreasonably applied Penry v. Lynaugh ( “Penry I ”), 492 U.S. 302, 109 S.Ct. 2934, 106 L.Ed.2d 256 (1989), Boyde v. California, 494 U.S. 370, 110 S.Ct. 1190, 108 L.Ed.2d 316 (1990), and Penry v. Johnson ( “Penry II ”), 532 U.S. 782, 121 S.Ct. 1910, 150 L.Ed.2d 9 (2001). We disagree and affirm the denial of the habeas petition. We also decline to grant a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on any of the additional issues Sprouse raises.

I.

In 2002, Sprouse entered a convenience store with a shotgun hung over his shoulder and, after returning to his vehicle, fired his weapon in the direction of two men. Then another customer saw Sprouse working on his vehicle and Pedro Moreno, yet another customer, filling his truck with gas. The customer noticed Sprouse attempting to speak to Moreno, who did not respond. Sprouse then reached into his vehicle, pulled out a gun, and shot and killed Moreno.

Officer Harry Steinfeldt, dressed in uniform and driving a police vehicle, responded to the shooting. When he arrived, before turning toward Sprouse's car, he noticed Moreno on the ground. As he turned, Sprouse shot him twice. Steinfeldt returned fire but died from his injuries. A second officer arrived and took Sprouse into custody. Sprouse was transported to a nearby hospital, where a doctor thought he was under the influence of drugs. Testing revealed he had consumed amphetamines, methamphetamines, and cannabis within the past forty-eight hours.

Sprouse was indicted for capital murder of a police officer. His lawyer filed notice of intent to present an insanity defense. The issue of intoxication—both as an affirmative defense and as mitigating evidence—was raised with several potential jurors during voir dire. Specifically, the prosecutor questioned two jurors who were chosen—Ruby Martinez 1 and Kathy Wilson 2—on that issue. Sprouse, however, did not object to that questioning. Defense

[748 F.3d 613]

counsel discussed the issue of intoxication with Martinez but not Wilson.

At the close of the guilt phase, the jury was instructed on insanity 3 but rejected that defense and convicted Sprouse of capital murder. At the punishment phase, Sprouse put forward no new evidence, instead relying on all the testimony and evidence that had been presented during the guilt phase.

At the close of the punishment phase, the jury was given three general instructions regarding mitigating evidence. First, it was instructed on what constitutes “mitigating evidence,” 4 Second—the focus of this appeal—the jury was instructed on the issue of intoxication: “You are instructed that under our law neither intoxication 5 nor temporary insanity of mind caused by intoxication constitute [ sic ] a defense to the commission of a crime. Evidence of temporary insanity caused by intoxication may be considered in mitigation of the penalty, if any, attached to the

[748 F.3d 614]

offense.” 6 Third, the jury was instructed on the issue of temporary insanity. 7

Additionally, the court told the jury to answer the mitigation special issue: “Taking into consideration all of the evidence, including the circumstances of the offense, the defendant's character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the defendant, do you find that there is sufficient mitigating ... circumstances to warrant that a sentence of life imprisonment rather than death be imposed?” Finally, the jury was given a catch-all instruction on mitigation: “You are to consider all evidence submitted to you during the whole trial as to defendant's background or character or the circumstances of the offense that mitigates against the imposition of the death penalty.”

At the close of the punishment phase, during his initial closing argument 8 and again on rebuttal,9 the prosecutor discussed the possibility of Sprouse's intoxication as mitigating. Defense counsel also discussed that issue during closing.10 The jury determined (1) there was a probability that Sprouse would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; and (2) there was not sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant a life sentence. In accordance with the verdict, the court sentenced Sprouse to death.

The TCCA affirmed on direct appeal. See Sprouse v. State, No. AP–4933, 2007 WL 283152, at *9 (Tex.Crim.App. Jan. 31, 2007). In deciding numerous issues raised on state habeas, the state trial court rejected the argument Sprouse presses on appeal,11 and the TCCA denied Sprouse's

[748 F.3d 615]

application for writ of habeas corpus. See Ex parte Sprouse, No. WR–66,950–01, 2010 WL 374959, at *1 (Tex.Crim.App. Feb. 3, 2010).

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Sprouse filed the instant petition, which the district court denied but granted a COA on the following issue: “Whether the jury instruction on intoxication during the punishment phase violated the Eighth Amendment, and whether counsel's failure to object or preserve it constituted ineffective assistance of trial counsel and/or appellate counsel.” 12

In determining that reasonable jurists would find that issue debatable, the district court first recognized that Fifth Circuit caselaw foreclosed Sprouse's contention.13 As the court noted, “[ Narvaiz v. Johnson, 134 F.3d 688 (5th Cir.1998),] reasoned that the general instruction to consider ‘all of the evidence’ admitted at trial negates any inference that the intoxication instruction precludes consideration of non-insane, voluntary intoxication.” Sprouse, 2013 WL 1285468, at *23. The district court, however, also observed that (1) Narvaiz, Drinkard v. Johnson, 97 F.3d 751 (5th Cir.1996), and Lauti v. Johnson, 102 F.3d 166 (5th Cir.1996) all predate Penry II, and (2) “[ Penry II ] appears to reject the type of reasoning relied upon in Narvaiz that a jury can logically and ethically follow two conflicting sets of instructions.” Id.

The district court denied a COA on all other issues raised in the motion. Sprouse appeals the Eighth Amendment issue and seeks COAs on five others.

II.

“In a habeas corpus appeal, we review the district court's findings of fact for clear error and its conclusions of law de

[748 F.3d 616]

novo, applying the same standards to the state court's decision as did the district court.” Busby v. Dretke, 359 F.3d 708, 713 (5th Cir.2004). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), if the state court adjudicated Sprouse's claim on the merits, federal habeas relief can be granted on that claim only if the adjudication of it

(1) 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; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (2012). We consider a state court decision to be “contrary to” clearly established Federal law 14 in two situations: “[ (1) ] the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law ... [or (2) ] the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to [that Supreme Court decision].” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). Likewise, we consider a state court decision to be “an unreasonable application” of Supreme Court precedent in three situations:


[(1)] the state court ... unreasonably applies [the correct governing legal rule] to the facts of the particular [ ] case ... [(2)] the state court [ ] unreasonably extends a legal principle from our precedent to a new context where it should not apply or [(3) the state court] unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.
Id. at 407, 120 S.Ct. 1495.

Even if a state court errs in applying Supreme Court precedent, the court may still not have acted unreasonably for AEDPA purposes. See Harrington v. Richter, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Id. “[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.” Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664, 124 S.Ct. 2140, 158 L.Ed.2d 938 (2004). “[I]t is not an...

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32 practice notes
  • Gobert v. Lumpkin, Civil 1:15-CV-42-RP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 31, 2022
    ...challenges to the phrases “probability, ” “criminal acts of violence, ” and “continuing threat 46 to society.” See Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622 (5th Cir. 2014); Turner v. Quarterman, 481 F.3d 292, 299-300 (5th Cir. 2007); Leal v. Dretke, 428 F.3d 543, 553 (5th Cir. 2005); Hughes v......
  • Luna v. Davis, CIVIL NO. SA-15-CA-451-XR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • September 24, 2018
    ...against challenges to the phrases "probability," "criminal acts of violence," and "continuing threat to society." See Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622 (5th Cir. 2014); Turner v. Quarterman, 481 F.3d 292, 299-300 (5th Cir. 2007); Leal v. Dretke, 428 F.3d 543, 553 (5th Cir. 2005); Hughe......
  • Holberg v. Davis, 2:15-CV-285-Z
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...instruction in a way that prevents the consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.” Boyde, 494 U.S. at 380; Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 618 (5th Cir. 2014). The TCCA's conclusion that Holberg's jury was able to give mitigating effect to the evidence of provocation when answe......
  • Cole v. Lumpkin, Civil Action 4:17-cv-940
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 7, 2021
    ...Circuit has similarly rejected this “far from novel” claim. Green v. Johnson, 160 F.3d 1029, 1043 (5th Cir. 1998); Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622-23 (5th Cir. 2014); Kerr v. Thaler, 384 Fed.Appx. 400, 404 (5th Cir. 2010); Paredes v. Quarterman, 574 F.3d 281, 294 (5th Cir. 2009); Sch......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Gobert v. Lumpkin, Civil 1:15-CV-42-RP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 31, 2022
    ...challenges to the phrases “probability, ” “criminal acts of violence, ” and “continuing threat 46 to society.” See Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622 (5th Cir. 2014); Turner v. Quarterman, 481 F.3d 292, 299-300 (5th Cir. 2007); Leal v. Dretke, 428 F.3d 543, 553 (5th Cir. 2005); Hughes v......
  • Luna v. Davis, CIVIL NO. SA-15-CA-451-XR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • September 24, 2018
    ...against challenges to the phrases "probability," "criminal acts of violence," and "continuing threat to society." See Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622 (5th Cir. 2014); Turner v. Quarterman, 481 F.3d 292, 299-300 (5th Cir. 2007); Leal v. Dretke, 428 F.3d 543, 553 (5th Cir. 2005); Hughe......
  • Holberg v. Davis, 2:15-CV-285-Z
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...instruction in a way that prevents the consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.” Boyde, 494 U.S. at 380; Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 618 (5th Cir. 2014). The TCCA's conclusion that Holberg's jury was able to give mitigating effect to the evidence of provocation when answe......
  • Cole v. Lumpkin, Civil Action 4:17-cv-940
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 7, 2021
    ...Circuit has similarly rejected this “far from novel” claim. Green v. Johnson, 160 F.3d 1029, 1043 (5th Cir. 1998); Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609, 622-23 (5th Cir. 2014); Kerr v. Thaler, 384 Fed.Appx. 400, 404 (5th Cir. 2010); Paredes v. Quarterman, 574 F.3d 281, 294 (5th Cir. 2009); Sch......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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