Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal

Decision Date18 May 1998
Docket Number97300
Citation523 U.S. 637,118 S.Ct. 1618,140 L.Ed.2d 849
PartiesTerry STEWART, Director, Arizona Department of Correction, et al., Petitioners, v. Ramon
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus*

Respondent was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. His direct appeals and habeas petitions in the Arizona state courts were unsuccessful, and his first three federal habeas petitions were denied on the ground that he had not exhausted his state remedies. In his fourth federal habeas petition, he claimed, inter alia, that he was incompetent to be executed under Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335. The District Court dismissed that claim as premature, but granted the writ on other grounds. In reversing the granting of the writ, the Ninth Circuit explained that its ruling was not intended to affect later litigation of the Ford claim. On remand, respondent moved to reopen his petition, fearing that review of his Ford claim might be foreclosed by the newly enacted Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which establishes a "gatekeeping'' mechanism for the consideration of "second or successive [federal] habeas corpus applications,'' Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 116 S.Ct. 2333, 135 L.Ed.2d 827; 28 U.S.C.A. §2244(b). Under AEDPA, a prisoner must ask the appropriate court of appeals to direct the district court to consider such an application, §2244(b)(3)(A), and a court of appeals' decision whether to authorize an application's filing is not appealable and cannot be the subject of a petition for rehearing or a writ of certiorari, §2244(b)(3)(E). The District Court denied the motion. Subsequently, Arizona obtained a warrant for respondent's execution, and the state courts found him fit to be executed. The District Court denied another motion to reopen his Ford claim, holding that it lacked jurisdiction under AEDPA. He then asked the Ninth Circuit for permission to file a successive habeas application. That court held that §2244(b) did not apply to a petition that raises only a competency to be executed claim and that respondent did not, therefore, need authorization to file his petition in the District Court.

Held:

1.Because respondent's claim was not a "second or successive'' petition under §2244(b), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Ninth Circuit's judgment on the State's certiorari petition. The fact that this was the second time that respondent asked the federal courts to provide relief on his Ford claim does not mean that there were two separate applications, the second of which was necessarily subject to §2244(b). There was only one application for habeas relief, and the District Court ruled (or should have ruled) on each claim when it became ripe. Since respondent was entitled to an adjudication of all of the claims presented in his earlier, undoubtedly reviewable, application, the Ninth Circuit correctly held that he was not required to get authorization to file a "second or successive'' application before his Ford claim could be heard. Accepting the State's interpretation-that once an individual has one fully litigated habeas petition, his new petition must be treated as successive-would have far reaching and seemingly perverse implications for habeas practice. This Court's cases have never suggested that a prisoner whose habeas petition was dismissed for failure to exhaust state remedies, and who then did exhaust those remedies and returned to federal court, was by such action filing a successive petition. A court would adjudicate those claims under the same standard as would govern those made in any other first petition. Respondent's Ford claim-previously dismissed as premature-should be treated in the same manner, for, in both situations, the habeas petitioner does not receive an adjudication of his claim. To hold otherwise would mean that a dismissal of a first habeas petition for technical procedural reasons, having nothing to do with the claim's merits, would bar the prisoner from ever obtaining federal habeas review. The State's reliance on Felker v. Turpin, supra, for a contrary interpretation is misplaced. Pp. ____-____.

2.For the same reasons that this Court finds it has jurisdiction, it finds that the Ninth Circuit correctly decided that respondent was entitled to a hearing on the merits of his Ford claim in the District Court. P. ____.

118 F.3d 628, affirmed.

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

Bruce M. Ferg, Tucson, AZ, for petitioners.

Denise L. Young, Lakewood, OH, for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 410, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 2602, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986) we held that "the Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from inflicting the penalty of death upon a prisoner who is insane.'' In this case, we must decide whether respondent Martinez-Villareal's Ford claim is subject to the restrictions on "second or successive'' applications for federal habeas relief found in the newly revised 28 U.S.C.A. §2244 (Supp.1997). We conclude that it is not.

Respondent was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He unsuccessfully challenged his conviction and sentence on direct appeal in the Arizona state courts. Arizona v. Martinez-Villareal, 145 Ariz. 441, 702 P.2d 670, cert. denied, 474 U.S. 975, 106 S.Ct. 339, 88 L.Ed.2d 324 (1985). He then filed a series of petitions for habeas relief in state court, all of which were denied. He also filed three petitions for habeas relief in federal court, all of which were dismissed on the ground that they contained claims on which the state remedies had not yet been exhausted.

In March 1993 respondent filed a fourth habeas petition in federal court. In addition to raising other claims, respondent also asserted that he was incompetent to be executed. Counsel for the State urged the District Court to dismiss respondent's Ford claim as premature. The court did so but granted the writ on other grounds. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's granting of the writ but explained that its instruction to enter judgment denying the petition was not intended to affect any later litigation of the Ford claim. Martinez-Villareal v. Lewis, 80 F.3d 1301, 1309, n. 1 (C.A.9 1996).

On remand to the District Court, respondent, fearing that the newly enacted Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) might foreclose review of his Ford claim, moved the court to reopen his earlier petition. In March 1997 the District Court denied the motion and reassured respondent that it had ""no intention of treating the [Ford] claim as a successive petition.''' Martinez-Villareal v. Stewart, 118 F.3d 628, 630 (C.A.9 1997). Shortly thereafter, the State obtained a warrant for respondent's execution. Proceedings were then held in the Arizona Superior Court on respondent's mental condition. That court concluded that respondent was fit to be executed. The Arizona Supreme Court rejected his appeal of that decision.

Respondent then moved in the Federal District Court to reopen his Ford claim. He challenged both the conclusions reached and the procedures employed by the Arizona state courts. Petitioner responded that under AEDPA, the court lacked jurisdiction. The District Court agreed with petitioner, ruling on May 16, 1997, that it did not have jurisdiction over the claim. Respondent then moved in the Court of Appeals for permission to file a successive habeas corpus application. §2244(b)(3).

The Court of Appeals stayed respondent's execution so that it could consider his request. It later held that §2244(b) did not apply to a petition that raises only a competency to be executed claim and that respondent did not, therefore, need authorization to file the petition in the District Court. It accordingly transferred the petition that had been presented to a member of that court back to the District Court. Martinez-Villareal, 118 F.3d, at 634-635.

We granted certiorari to resolve an apparent conflict between the Ninth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit on this important question of federal law. See, e.g., In re Medina, 109 F.3d 1556 (C.A.11 1997).

Before reaching the question presented, however, we must first decide whether we have jurisdiction over this case. In AEDPA, Congress established a "gatekeeping'' mechanism for the consideration of "second or successive habeas corpus applications'' in the federal courts. Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, ----, 116 S.Ct. 2333, 2337, 135 L.Ed.2d 827 (1996); §2244(b). An individual seeking to file a "second or successive'' application must move in the appropriate court of appeals for an order directing the district court to consider his application. §2244(b)(3)(A). The court of appeals then has 30 days to decide whether to grant the authorization to file. §2244(b)(3)(D). A court of appeals' decision whether to grant authorization "to file a second or successive application shall not be appealable and shall not be the subject of a petition for rehearing or for a writ of certiorari.'' §2244(b)(3)(E).

If the Court of Appeals in this case had granted respondent leave to file a second or successive application, then we would be without jurisdiction to consider the State's petition and would have to dismiss the writ. This is not, however, what the Court of Appeals did. The Court of Appeals held that the §2244(b) restrictions simply do not apply to respondent's Ford claim, and that there was accordingly no need for him to apply for authorization to file a second or successive petition. We conclude today that the Court of Appeals reached the correct result in this case, and...

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