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Panetti v. Quarterman

June 28, 2007

SCOTT LOUIS PANETTI, PETITIONER
v.
NATHANIEL QUARTERMAN, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS DIVISION



On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit Court Below: 448 F. 3d 815

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM 2006

Argued April 18, 2007

Petitioner was convicted of capital murder in a Texas state court and sentenced to death despite his well-documented history of mental illness. After the Texas courts denied relief on direct appeal, petitioner filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §2254, but the District Court and the Fifth Circuit rejected his claims, and this Court denied certiorari. In the course of these initial state and federal proceedings, petitioner did not argue that mental illness rendered him incompetent to be executed. Once the state trial court set an execution date, petitioner filed a motion under Texas law claiming, for the first time, that he was incompetent to be executed because of mental illness. The trial judge denied the motion without a hearing and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed petitioner's appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

He then filed another federal habeas petition under §2254, and the District Court stayed his execution to allow the state trial court time to consider evidence of his then-current mental state. Once the state court began its adjudication, petitioner submitted 10 motions in which he requested, inter alia, a competency hearing and funds for a mental health expert. The court indicated it would rule on the outstanding motions once it had received the report written by the experts that it had appointed to review petitioner's mental condition. The experts subsequently filed this report, which concluded, inter alia, that petitioner had the ability to understand the reason he was to be executed. Without ruling on the outstanding motions, the judge found petitioner competent and closed the case. Petitioner then returned to the Federal District Court, seeking a resolution of his pending §2254 petition. The District Court concluded that the state-court competency proceedings failed to comply with Texas law and were constitutionally inadequate in light of the procedural requirements mandated by Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U. S. 399, 410, where this Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits States from inflicting the death penalty upon insane prisoners. Although the court therefore reviewed petitioner's incompetency claim without deferring to the state court's finding of competency, it nevertheless granted no relief, finding that petitioner had not demonstrated that he met the standard for incompetency. Under Fifth Circuit precedent, the court explained, petitioner was competent to be executed so long as he knew the fact of his impending execution and the factual predicate for it. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held:

1. This Court has statutory authority to adjudicate the claims raised in petitioner's second federal habeas application. Because §2244(b)(2) requires that "[a] claim presented in a second or successive ... [§2254] application ... that was not presented in a prior application ... be dismissed," the State maintains that the failure of petitioner's first §2254 application to raise a Ford-based incompetency claim deprived the District Court of jurisdiction. The results this argument would produce show its flaws. Were the State's interpretation of "second or successive" correct, a prisoner would have two options: forgo the opportunity to raise a Ford claim in federal court; or raise the claim in a first federal habeas application even though it is premature. Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal, 523 U. S. 637, 644. The dilemma would apply not only to prisoners with mental conditions that, at the time of the initial habeas filing, were indicative of incompetency but also to all other prisoners, including those with no early sign of mental illness. Because all prisoners are at risk of deteriorations in their mental state, conscientious defense attorneys would be obliged to file unripe (and, in many cases, meritless) Ford claims in each and every §2254 application. This counterintuitive approach would add to the burden imposed on courts, applicants, and the States, with no clear advantage to any. The more reasonable interpretation of §2244, suggested by this Court's precedents, is that Congress did not intend the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) addressing "second or successive" habeas petitions to govern a filing in the unusual posture presented here: a §2254 application raising a Ford-based incompetency claim filed as soon as that claim is ripe. See, e.g., Martinez-Villareal, supra, at 643-645. This conclusion is confirmed by AEDPA's purposes of "further[ing] comity, finality, and federalism," Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U. S. 322, 337, "promot[ing] judicial efficiency and conservation of judicial resources, ... and lend[ing] finality to state court judgments within a reasonable time," Day v. McDonough, 547 U. S. 198, 205-206. These purposes, and the practical effects of the Court's holdings, should be considered when interpreting AEDPA, particularly where, as here, petitioners "run the risk" under the proposed interpretation of "forever losing their opportunity for any federal review of their unexhausted claims," Rhines v. Weber, 544 U. S. 269, 275. There is, finally, no argument in this case that petitioner proceeded in a manner that could be considered an abuse of the writ. Cf. Felker v. Turpin, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kennedy

551 U. S. ____ (2007)

"[T]he Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane." Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U. S. 399, 409-410 (1986). The prohibition applies despite a prisoner's earlier competency to be held responsible for committing a crime and to be tried for it. Prior findings of competency do not foreclose a prisoner from proving he is incompetent to be executed because of his present mental condition. Under Ford, once a prisoner makes the requisite preliminary showing that his current mental state would bar his execution, the Eighth Amendment, applicable to the States under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, entitles him to an adjudication to determine his condition. These determinations are governed by the substantive federal baseline for competency set down in Ford.

Scott Louis Panetti, referred to here as petitioner, was convicted and sentenced to death in a Texas state court. After the state trial court set an execution date, petitioner made a substantial showing he was not competent to be executed. The state court rejected his claim of incompetency on the merits. Filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, petitioner claimed again that his mental condition barred his execution; that the Eighth Amendment set forth a substantive standard for competency different from the one advanced by the State; and that prior state-court proceedings on the issue were insufficient to satisfy the procedural requirements mandated by Ford. The State denied these assertions and argued, in addition, that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction to hear petitioner's claims.

We conclude we have statutory authority to adjudicate the claims petitioner raises in his habeas application; we find the state court failed to provide the procedures to which petitioner was entitled under the Constitution; and we determine that the federal appellate court employed an improperly restrictive test when it considered petitioner's claim of incompetency on the merits. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and remand the case for further consideration.

I.

On a morning in 1992 petitioner awoke before dawn, dressed in camouflage, and drove to the home of his estranged wife's parents. Breaking the front-door lock, he entered the house and, in front of his wife and daughter, shot and killed his wife's mother and father. He took his wife and daughter hostage for the night before surrendering to police.

Tried for capital murder in 1995, petitioner sought to represent himself. The court ordered a psychiatric evaluation, which indicated that petitioner suffered from a fragmented personality, delusions, and hallucinations. 1 App. 9-14. The evaluation noted that petitioner had been hospitalized numerous times for these disorders. Id., at 10; see also id., at 222. Evidence later revealed that doctors had prescribed medication for petitioner's mental disorders that, in the opinion of one expert, would be difficult for a person not suffering from extreme psychosis even to tolerate. See id., at 233 ("I can't imagine anybody getting that dose waking up for two to three days. You cannot take that kind of medication if you are close to normal without absolutely being put out"). Petitioner's wife described one psychotic episode in a petition she filed in 1986 seeking extraordinary relief from the Texas state courts. See id., at 38-40. She explained that petitioner had become convinced the devil had possessed their home and that, in an effort to cleanse their surroundings, petitioner had buried a number of valuables next to the house and engaged in other rituals. Id., at 39. Petitioner nevertheless was found competent to be tried and to waive counsel. At trial he claimed he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

During his trial petitioner engaged in behavior later described by his standby counsel as "bizarre," "scary," and "trance-like." Id., at 26, 21, 22. According to the attorney, petitioner's behavior both in private and in front of the jury made it evident that he was suffering from "mental incompetence," id., at 26; see also id., at 22-23, and the net effect of this dynamic was to render the trial "truly a judicial farce, and a mockery of self-representation," id., at 26. There was evidence on the record, moreover, to indicate that petitioner had stopped taking his antipsychotic medication a few months before trial, see id., at 339, 345, a rejection of medical advice that, it appears, petitioner has continued to this day with one brief exception, see Brief for Petitioner 16-17. According to expert testimony, failing to take this medication tends to exacerbate the underlying mental dysfunction. See id., at 16, 18, n. 12; see also 1 App. 195, 228. And it is uncontested that, less than two months after petitioner was sentenced to death, the state trial court found him incompetent to waive the appointment of state habeas counsel. See Brief for Petitioner 15, n. 10. It appears, therefore, that petitioner's condition has only worsened since the start of trial.

The jury found petitioner guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Petitioner challenged his conviction and sentence both on direct appeal and through state habeas proceedings. The Texas courts denied his requests for relief. See Panetti v. State, No. 72,230 (Crim. App., Dec. 3, 1997); Ex parte Panetti, No. 37,145-01 (Crim. App., May 20, 1998). This Court twice denied a petition for certiorari. Panetti v. Texas, 525 U. S. 848 (1998); Panetti v. Texas, 524 U. S. 914 (1998).

Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §2254 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. His claims were again rejected, both by the District Court, Panetti v. Johnson, Cause No. A-99-CV-260-SS (2001), and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Panetti v. Cockrell, 73 Fed. Appx. 78 (2003) (judgt. order), and we again denied a petition for certiorari, Panetti v. Dretke, 540 U. S. 1052 (2003). Among the issues petitioner raised in the course of these state and federal proceedings was his competency to stand trial and to waive counsel. Petitioner did not argue, however, that mental illness rendered him incompetent to be executed.

On October 31, 2003, Judge Stephen B. Ables of the 216th Judicial District Court in Gillespie County, Texas, set petitioner's execution date for February 5, 2004. See First Order Setting Execution in Cause No. 3310; Order Setting Execution in Cause No. 3310. On December 10, 2003, counsel for petitioner filed with Judge Ables a motion under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 46.05 (Vernon Supp. Pamphlet 2006). Petitioner claimed, for the first time, that due to mental illness he was incompetent to be executed. The judge denied the motion without a hearing. When petitioner attempted to challenge the ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction, indicating it has authority to review an Art. 46.05 determination only when a trial court has determined a prisoner is incompetent. Ex parte Panetti, No. 74,868 (Jan. 28, 2004) (per curiam).

Petitioner returned to federal court, where he filed another petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to §2254 and a motion for stay of execution. On February 4, 2004, the District Court stayed petitioner's execution to "allow the state court a reasonable period of time to consider the evidence of [petitioner's] current mental state." Order in Case No. A-04-CA-042-SS, 1 App. 113-114, 116.

The state court had before it, at that time, petitioner's Renewed Motion To Determine Competency To Be Executed (hereinafter Renewed Motion To Determine Competency). Attached to the motion were a letter and a declaration from two individuals, a psychologist and a law professor, who had interviewed petitioner while on death row on February 3, 2004. The new evidence, according to counsel, demonstrated that petitioner did not understand the reasons he was about to be executed.

Due to the absence of a transcript, the state-court proceedings after this point are not altogether clear. The claims raised before this Court nevertheless make it necessary to recount the procedural history in some detail. Based on the docket entries and the parties' filings it appears the following occurred.

The state trial court ordered the parties to participate in a telephone conference on February 9, 2004, to discuss the status of the case. There followed a court directive instructing counsel to submit, by February 20, the names of mental health experts the court should consider appointing pursuant to Art. 46.05(f). See ibid. ("If the trial court determines that the defendant has made a substantial showing of incompetency, the court shall order at least two mental health experts to examine the defendant"). The court also gave the parties until February 20 to submit any motions concerning the competency procedures and advised it would hold another status conference on that same date. Defendant's Motion To Reconsider in Cause No. 3310, pp. 1-2 (Mar. 4, 2004) (hereinafter Motion to Reconsider).

On February 19, 2004, petitioner filed 10 motions related to the Art. 46.05 proceedings. They included requests for transcription of the proceedings, a competency hearing comporting with the procedural due process requirements set forth in Ford, and funds to hire a mental health expert. See Motion To Transcribe All Proceedings Related to Competency Determination Under Article 46.05 in Cause No. 3310; Motion To Ensure That The Article 46.05 "Final Competency Hearing" Comports With The Procedural Due Process Requirements of Ford in Cause No. 3310 (hereinafter Motion to Ensure); Ex Parte Motion for Prepayment of Funds To Hire Mental Health Expert To Assist Defense in Article 46.05 Proceedings in Cause No. 3310.

On February 20 the court failed to hold its scheduled status conference. Petitioner's counsel called the courthouse and was advised Judge Ables was out of the office for the day. Counsel then called the Gillespie County District Attorney, who explained that the judge had informed state attorneys earlier that week that he was canceling the conference he had set and would appoint the mental health experts without input from the parties. Motion to Reconsider 2.

On February 23, 2004, counsel for petitioner received an order, dated February 20, advising that the court was appointing two mental health experts pursuant to Art. §46.05(f). Order in Cause No. 3310, p. 1 (Feb. 26, 2004), 1 App. 59. On February 25, at an informal status conference, the court denied two of petitioner's motions, indicating it would consider the others when the court-appointed mental health experts completed their evaluations. Motion to Reconsider 3. On March 4, petitioner filed a motion explaining that a delayed ruling would render a number of the motions moot. Id., at 1. There is no indication the court responded to this motion.

The court-appointed experts returned with their evaluation on April 28, 2004. Concluding that petitioner "knows that he is to be executed, and that his execution will result in his death," and, moreover, that he "has the ability to understand the reason he is to be executed," the experts alleged that petitioner's uncooperative and bizarre behavior was due to calculated design: "Mr. Panetti deliberately and persistently chose to control and manipulate our interview situation," they claimed. 1 App. 75. They maintained that petitioner "could answer questions about relevant legal issues ... if he were willing to do so." Ibid.

The judge sent a letter to counsel, including petitioner's attorney, Michael C. Gross, dated May 14, 2004. It said:

"Dear Counsel:

"It appears from the evaluations performed by [the court-appointed experts] that they are of the opinion that [petitioner] is competent to be executed in accordance with the standards set out in Art. 46.05 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

"Mr. Gross, if you have any other matters you wish to have considered, please file them in the case papers and get me copies by 5:00 p.m. on May 21, 2004."

Petitioner responded with a filing entitled "Objections to Experts' Report, Renewed Motion for Funds To Hire Mental Health Expert and Investigator, Renewed Motion for Appointment of Counsel, and Motion for Competency Hearing" in Cause No. 3310 (May 24, 2004) (hereinafter Objections to Experts' Report). In this filing petitioner criticized the methodology and conclusions of the court-appointed experts; asserted his continued need for a mental health expert as his own criticisms of the report were "by necessity limited," id., at 1; again asked the court to rule on his outstanding motions for funds and appointment of counsel; and requested a competency hearing. Petitioner also argued, as a more general matter, that the process he had received thus far failed to comply with Art. 46.05 and the procedural mandates set by Ford.

The court, in response, closed the case. On May 26, it released a short order identifying the report submitted by the court-appointed experts and explaining that "[b]ased on the aforesaid doctors' reports, the Court finds that [petitioner] has failed to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he is incompetent to be executed." Order Regarding Competency To Be Executed in Cause No. 3310, 1 App. 99. The order made no mention of petitioner's motions or other filings. Petitioner did not appeal the ruling to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and he did not petition this Court for certiorari.

This background leads to the matter now before us. Petitioner returned to federal court, seeking resolution of the §2254 petition he had filed on January 26. The District Court granted petitioner's motions to reconsider, to stay his execution, to appoint counsel, and to provide funds. The court, in addition, set the case for an evidentiary hearing, which included testimony by a psychiatrist, a professor, and two psychologists, all called by petitioner, as well as two psychologists and three correctional officers, called by respondent. See 1 App. 117-135, 362-363; see also id., at 136-336. We describe the substance of the experts' testimony in more detail later in our opinion.

On September 29, 2004, the District Court denied petitioner's habeas application on the merits. It concluded that the state trial court had failed to comply with Art. 46.05; found the state proceedings "constitutionally inadequate" in light of Ford; and reviewed petitioner's Eighth Amendment claim without deferring to the state court's finding of competency. Panetti v. Dretke, 401 F. Supp. 2d 702, 706, 705-706 (WD Tex. 2004). The court nevertheless denied relief. It found petitioner had not shown incompetency as defined by Circuit precedent. Id., at 712. "Ultimately," the court explained, "the Fifth Circuit test for competency to be executed requires the petitioner know no more than the fact of his impending execution and the factual predicate for the execution." Id., at 711. The Court of Appeals affirmed, Panetti v. Dretke, 448 F. 3d 815 (CA5 2006), and we granted certiorari, 549 U. S. ___ (2007).

II.

We first consider our jurisdiction. The habeas corpus application on review is the second one petitioner has filed in federal court. Under the gatekeeping provisions of 28 U. S. C. §2244(b)(2), "[a] claim presented in a second or successive habeas corpus application under section 2254 that was not presented in a prior application shall be dismissed" except under certain, narrow circumstances. See §§2244(b)(2)(A)-(B).

The State maintains that, by direction of §2244, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate petitioner's §2254 application. Its argument is straightforward: "[Petitioner's] first federal habeas application, which was fully and finally adjudicated on the merits, failed to raise a Ford claim," and, as a result, "[his] subsequent habeas application, which did raise a Ford claim, was a `second or successive' application" under the terms of §2244(b)(2). Supplemental Brief for Respondent 1. The State contends, moreover, that any Ford claim brought in an application governed by §2244's gatekeeping provisions must be dismissed. See Supplemental Brief for Respondent 4-6 (citing §§2244(b)(2)(A)-(B)).

The State acknowledges that Ford-based incompetency claims, as a general matter, are not ripe until after the time has run to file a first federal habeas petition. See Supplemental Brief for Respondent 6. The State nevertheless maintains that its rule would not foreclose prisoners from raising Ford claims. Under Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal, 523 U. S. 637 (1998), the State explains, a federal court is permitted to review a prisoner's Ford claim once it becomes ripe if the prisoner preserved the claim by filing it in his first federal habeas application. Under the State's approach a prisoner contemplating a future Ford claim could preserve it by this means.

The State's argument has some force. The results it would produce, however, show its flaws. As in Martinez-Villareal, if the State's "interpretation of `second or successive' were correct, the implications for habeas practice would be far reaching and seemingly perverse." 523 U. S., at 644. A prisoner would be faced with two options: forgo the opportunity to raise a Ford claim in federal court; or raise the claim in a first federal habeas application (which generally must be filed within one year of the relevant state-court ruling), even though it is premature. The dilemma would apply not only to prisoners with mental conditions indicative of incompetency but also to those with no early sign of mental illness. All prisoners are at risk of deteriorations in their mental state. As a result, conscientious defense attorneys would be obliged to file unripe (and, in many cases, meritless) Ford claims in each and every §2254 application. This counterintuitive approach would add to the burden imposed on courts, applicants, and the States, with no clear advantage to any.

We conclude there is another reasonable interpretation of §2244, one that does not produce these distortions and inefficiencies.

The phrase "second or successive" is not self-defining. It takes its full meaning from our case law, including decisions predating the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214. See Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U. S. 473, 486 (2000) (citing Martinez-Villareal, supra); see also Felker v. Turpin, 518 U. S. 651, 664 (1996). The Court has declined to interpret "second or successive" as referring to all §2254 applications filed second or successively in time, even when the later filings address a state-court judgment already challenged in a prior §2254 application. See, e.g., Slack, 529 U. S., at 487 (concluding that a second §2254 application was not "second or successive" after the petitioner's first application, which had challenged the same state-court judgment, had been dismissed for failure to exhaust state remedies); see also id., at 486 (indicating that "pre-AEDPA law govern[ed]" the case before it but implying that the Court would reach the same result under AEDPA); see also Martinez-Villareal, supra, at 645.

Our interpretation of §2244 in Martinez-Villareal is illustrative. There the prisoner filed his first habeas application before his execution date was set. In the first application he asserted, inter alia, that he was incompetent to be executed, citing Ford. The District Court, among other holdings, dismissed the claim as premature; and the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling. When the State obtained a warrant for the execution, the prisoner filed, for the second time, a habeas application raising the same incompetency claim. The State argued that because the prisoner "already had one `fully-litigated habeas petition, the plain meaning of §2244(b) ... requires his new petition to be treated as successive.' " 523 U. S., at 643.

We rejected this contention. While the later filing "may have been the second time that [the prisoner] had asked the federal courts to provide relief on his Ford claim," the Court declined to accept that there were, as a result, "two separate applications, [with] the second ... necessarily subject to §2244(b)." Ibid. The Court instead held that, in light of the particular circumstances presented by a Ford claim, it would treat the two filings as a single application. The petitioner "was entitled to an adjudication of all the claims presented in his earlier, undoubtedly reviewable, application for federal habeas relief." 523 U. S., at 643.

Our earlier holding does not resolve the jurisdictional question in the instant case. Martinez-Villareal did not address the applicability of §2244(b) "where a prisoner raises a Ford claim for the first time in a petition filed after the federal courts have already rejected the prisoner's initial habeas application." Id., at 645, n. Yet the Court's willingness to look to the "implications for habeas practice" when interpreting §2244 informs the analysis here. Id., at 644. We conclude, in accord with this precedent, that Congress did not intend the provisions of AEDPA addressing "second or successive" petitions to govern a filing in the unusual posture presented here: a §2254 application raising a Ford-based incompetency claim filed as soon as that claim is ripe.

Our conclusion is confirmed when we consider AEDPA's purposes. The statute's design is to "further the principles of comity, finality, and federalism." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U. S. 322, 337 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Cf. Day v. McDonough, 547 U. S. 198, 205-206 (2006) ("The AEDPA statute of limitation promotes judicial efficiency and conservation of judicial resources, safeguards the accuracy of state court judgments by requiring resolution of constitutional questions while ...


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