JEFFERSON DUNN, COMMISSIONER, ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
than 30 years ago, Vernon Madison crept up behind police
officer Julius Schulte and shot him twice in the head at
close range. An Alabama jury found Madison guilty of capital
murder. The trial court sentenced him to death. See Ex
parte Madison, 718 So.2d 104, 105-106 (1998).
2016, as Madison's execution neared, he petitioned the
trial court for a suspension of his death sentence. He argued
that, due to several recent strokes, he has become
incompetent to be executed. The court held a hearing to
receive testimony from two psychologists who had examined
Madison and prepared reports concerning his competence. The
court's appointed psychologist, Dr. Karl Kirk-land,
reported that, although Madison may have "suffered a
significant decline post-stroke, . . . [he] understands the
exact posture of his case at this point, " and appears
to have a "rational understanding of . . . the results
or effects" of his death sentence. App. to Pet. for
Cert. 75a (internal quotation marks omitted); Madison v.
Commissioner, Ala. Dept. of Corrections, 851 F.3d 1173,
1193 (CA11 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). Asked at
the hearing whether Madison understands that Alabama is
seeking retribution against him for his criminal act, Dr.
Kirkland answered, "Certainly." Id., at
1180 (internal quotation marks omitted).
John Goff, a psychologist hired by Madison's counsel,
reported that Madison's strokes have rendered him unable
to remember "numerous events that have occurred over the
past thirty years or more." App. to Pet. for Cert. 77a.
Nevertheless, Dr. Goff found that Madison "is able to
understand the nature of the pending proceeding and he has an
understanding of what he was tried for"; that he knows
he is "in prison . . . because of
'murder'"; that he "understands that . . .
[Alabama is] seeking retribution" for that crime; and
that he "understands the sentence, specifically the
meaning of a death sentence." Id., at 76a-78a
(some internal quotation marks omitted). In Dr. Goff's
opinion, however, Madison does not "understan[d] the act
that ... he is being punished for" because he cannot
recall "the sequence of events from the offense to his
arrest to the trial or any of those details" and
believes that he "never went around killing folks."
Ibid, (internal quotation marks omitted).
trial court denied Madison's petition. It held that,
under this Court's decisions in Ford v.
Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), and Panetti v.
Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007), Madison was entitled to
relief if he could show that he "suffers from a mental
illness which deprives [him] of the mental capacity to
rationally understand that he is being executed as a
punishment for a crime." App. to Pet. for Cert. 74a. The
court concluded that Madison had failed to make that showing.
Specifically, it found that Madison understands "that he
is going to be executed because of the murder he committed[,
] . . . that the State is seeking retribution[, ] and that he
will die when he is executed." Id., at 82a.
then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal
District Court. As a state prisoner, Madison is entitled to
federal habeas relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) only if the state trial
court's adjudication of his incompetence claim "was
contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of,
clearly established Federal law, as determined by" this
Court, or else was "based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented" in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A
habeas petitioner meets this demanding standard only when he
shows that the state court's decision was "so
lacking in justification that there was an error well
understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any
possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington
v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). The District Court
denied Madison's petition after concluding that the state
court "correctly applied Ford and
Panetti" and did not make an "unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence."
App. to Pet. for Cert. 67a.
Eleventh Circuit granted a certificate of appealability and,
on appeal, reversed over Judge Jordan's dissent. In the
majority's view, given the undisputed fact that Madison
"has no memory of his capital offense, " it
inescapably follows that he "does not rationally
understand the connection between his crime and his
execution." 851 F.3d, at 1185-1186. On that basis, the
Eleventh Circuit held that the trial court's conclusion
that Madison is competent to be executed was "plainly
unreasonable" and "cannot be reconciled with any
reasonable application of Panetti." Id., at
1187-1188 (internal quotation marks omitted).
disagree. In Panetti, this Court addressed the
question whether the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution
of a prisoner who lacks "the mental capacity to
understand that [he] is being executed as a punishment for a
crime." 551 U.S., at 954 (internal quotation marks
omitted). We noted that the retributive purpose of capital
punishment is not well served where "the prisoner's
mental state is so distorted by a mental illness that his
awareness of the crime and punishment has little or no
relation to the understanding of those concepts shared by the
community as a whole." Id., at 958-959.
Similarly, in Ford, we questioned the
"retributive value of executing a person who has no
comprehension of why he has been singled out." 477 U.S.,
at 409. Neither Panetti nor Ford
"clearly established" that a prisoner is
incompetent to be executed because of a failure to remember
his commission of the crime, as distinct from a failure to
rationally comprehend the concepts of crime and punishment as
applied in his case. The state court did not unreasonably
apply Panetti and Ford when it determined
that Madison is competent to be executed
because-notwithstanding his memory loss-he recognizes that he
will be put to death as punishment for the murder he was
found to have committed.
the state court's decision founded on an unreasonable
assessment of the evidence before it. Testimony from each of
the psychologists who examined Madison supported the
court's finding that Madison understands both that he was
tried and imprisoned for murder and that Alabama will put him
to death as punishment for that crime.
short, the state court's determinations of law and fact
were not "so lacking in justification" as to give
rise to error "beyond any possibility for fairminded
disagreement." Richter, supra, at 103. Under
that deferential standard, Madison's claim to federal
habeas relief must fail. We express no view on the merits of
the underlying question outside of the AEDPA context.
petition for a writ of certiorari and respondent's motion
to proceed in forma pauperis are granted, and the
judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
Justice Ginsburg, with whom Justice Breyer and Justice