Whether a person, having obtained federal habeas relief from a first habeas petition, may challenge the new sentencing judgment with a second petition, or if that petition is barred as “second or successive,” because its grounds could have been argued in the first petition.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) prohibits the filing of “second or successive” habeas petitions by state prisoners. Petitioner, Billy Joe Magwood (“Magwood”) and respondent, Warden Tony Patterson (“Patterson”), disagree as to whether Magwood, who received habeas relief from an earlier death sentence, may challenge a subsequent state issued death sentence for the same act. Magwood argues that a habeas petition challenging a new judgment for the first time cannot be “second or successive.” In response, Patterson asserts that Magwood had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the “fair warning claim” in the first habeas petition, and it would be an abuse of the writ and a violation of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) to raise the same claim in this subsequent petition. The Eleventh Circuit sided with Patterson and held that Magwood’s claim is part of a “successive” petition under § 2244(b). The Supreme Court must now decide whether a petitioner, who already obtained federal relief from an earlier sentence, may challenge a resentence in a subsequent habeas petition if that petitioner could have challenged the first sentence on the same constitutional grounds now used to challenge the second sentence.
The facts of Magwood’s offense are not in dispute. On March 1, 1979, when Thomas Weeks, a Coffee County Deputy Sheriff, arrived at the Coffee County jail house, he spotted and recognized Petitioner, Billy Joe Magwood (“Magwood”), as a former inmate. Deputy Weeks testified that Magwood was sitting in a car parked in Sheriff Grantham’s parking space. When the Sheriff arrived, Magwood got out of his car with something in his hand and approached Sheriff Grantham. Deputy Weeks heard three gunshots and saw Sheriff Grantham fall to the ground. Magwood then got back into his car, and as he did this, Deputy Weeks spotted a pistol in his hand. When Deputy Weeks went over to Sheriff Grantham he did not appear to be breathing and was subsequently declared dead. Deputy Weeks did not see anyone else in the area at the time Sheriff Grantham as killed.
On June 2, 1981, Magwood was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Sheriff Grantham. He appealed this decision, but both the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed Magwood’s conviction and death sentence. Magwood petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of certiorari, but the Supreme Court denied it.
From there, Magwood filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis in the Circuit Court of Coffee County. Both the Circuit Court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals denied this petition.
Magwood then filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court upheld Magwood’s conviction, but found the sentencing court had failed to consider two mitigating circumstances and conditionally granted the writ with regard to Magwood’s death sentence.
On October 2, 1986, the Alabama trial court again sentenced Magwood to death, this time having considered the two mitigating circumstances the federal district court had found. Both the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed this resentencing decision. Thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Magwood’s petition for a writ of certiorari.
On April 23, 1997, Magwood filed a second habeas petition in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in which he challenged his 1986 resentencing. The district court granted his petition and vacated Magwood’s death sentence based on his claims regarding (1) fair-warning and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of relief, deciding in favor of the State. The State argued that Magwood’s fair-warning claim is a “second or successive petition” under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2) and that Magwood should have argued it in his first habeas petition.
On November 16, 2009, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Magwood, having obtained federal habeas relief from his first habeas petition, may challenge the new sentencing judgment with a second petition, or if that petition is barred as “second or successive,” because its grounds could have been argued in his first petition.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) prohibits the filing of “second or successive” habeas petitions by state prisoners. In addition, 28 U.S.C § 2254(a), as amended by AEDPA, states that federal courts “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” Petitioner, Billy Joe Magwood (“Magwood”) and respondent, Tony Patterson (“Patterson”), disagree as to whether Magwood, who received habeas relief from an earlier death sentence, can challenge a subsequent state issued death sentence for the same act. Patterson argues, and the Eleventh Circuit agrees, that Magwood already had one full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim and so § 2244(b)(2) bars his “second or successive” claim. Magwood appealed the Eleventh Circuit decision so the Supreme Court must now decide whether a petitioner’s subsequent habeas petition challenging a new sentence is a “second or successive” claim pursuant to § 2244(b) if that petitioner could have challenged his or her previously imposed (but now vacated) sentence on the same constitutional grounds.
Textual Analysis of § 2244(b)
Magwood argues that a habeas petition challenging a new judgment for the first time cannot be second or successive. He explains that to determine if a habeas application is successive or second one needs to look at the state court judgment. He cites § 2254’s use of the phrase “in custody pursuant to” preceding the words “the judgment of a State court” to support the conclusion that once a court vacates a judgment and issues a new one, that prisoner is no longer is custody pursuant to the first judgment. Thus, according to Magwood, the “counting of habeas applications starts over with respect to challenges to the new proceeding that led to that new judgment.”
The Eleventh Circuit dismissed Magwood’s second habeas petition because Magwood could have challenged his original death sentence on the same grounds that he asserted in his second habeas petition. Magwood rejects this argument. He explains that the Eleventh Circuit’s decision is contrary to the language of § 2244. He clarifies that § 2244(b) requires courts to determine whether an “application” is successive and notes that even if the application is successive, the claims within that application require separate consideration to determine whether the “claim” may go forward. Magwood asserts that his claim is being asserted for the “first time” because it concerns a new judgment.
Conversely, Patterson agrees with the Eleventh Circuit. He argues that federal habeas petitioners are entitled to only one full and fair opportunity to litigate a claim. According to Patterson, it is an abuse of the writ of habeas corpus to raise a claim that could have been litigated in the previous petition. Patterson believes that Magwood’s argument improperly focuses on the number of paper petitions challenging “the same judgment.” Further, Patterson argues that Magwood’s argument “emasculates § 2244(b) and defies AEDPA’s goals of “comity, federalism, and finality” by resurrecting claims that could have been adjudicated in previous petitions.
This dispute hinges on interpretations of § 2244(b)’s language. While Magwood argues that “second or successive” refers to the number of paper applications against “the same judgment,” Patterson asserts “second or successive” refers to previous opportunities to assert the same “claim.” Patterson firmly believes that § 2244(b) is a “claim-focused” statute in that only individual claims and not applications containing those claims can be “procedurally defaulted.”
Historical Analysis of § 2244(b)
Magwood states that historically, a habeas application cannot be “second or successive” if it challenges a judgment different from that challenged in the petitioner’s first application. He argues that res judicata does not apply to habeas petitions and the “abuse of the writ” doctrine instead serves a safeguard against repetitive litigation. Contrary to the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling, Magwood asserts that his due process claim in his second habeas petition challenges a new and different sentence than he challenged in his first petition. He notes that even if res judicata (or claim preclusion) applied to habeas petitions, it would not bar the claim in question. Magwood explains that res judicata allows “subsequent lawsuits between the same parties whenever the new lawsuit is based upon a ‘different cause or demand’ than the first.”
Magwood evokes Supreme Court precedent in support of his argument that this habeas petition is not barred by § 2244(b). According to Magwood, the Supreme Court has never asserted that a habeas application is successive if it challenges a different judgment. He quotes Justice Souter who recently articulated the Supreme Court’s understanding of “second or successive.” Magwood states that Justice Souter’s assertion of the Court’s understanding turns on whether a habeas application challenges the same court-ordered judgment as an earlier application.
Patterson, however, insists that circuit courts’ consistent use of the “one opportunity” rule precludes Magwood’s habeas petition. Patterson states that the “one opportunity” rule evolved because of a history of abuse of the writ of habeas corpus. Also, according to Patterson, the “one opportunity” rule ensures that federal courts do not “second guess” state courts’ sentences for a second time, especially when the issue on appeal could have been raised in the first petition. Patterson claims that Magwood’s reading of § 2244(b) resurrects closed claims, and thus disrespects “finality” and “disparages the entire criminal justice system.”
Further, Patterson rejects Magwood’s claim that the “abuse of the writ” doctrine was designed to stop repetitive litigation of the same judgment. According to Patterson, the abuse of the writ doctrine was not created to prevent repetitive challenges to the same judgment, but rather targeted “numerically second (or later) petitioners containing claims that could have been raised in earlier petitions.”
In 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). This piece of legislation reformed the use of the writ of habeas corpus to challenge criminal convictions. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 of the AEDPA requires appellants to include all of their claims in one appeal.
Twenty-three states (“States”) wrote as amici curiae in support of respondents, Warden Tony Patterson, et al. The States argue that petitioner’s, Billy Joe Magwood’s (“Magwood”), second writ of habeas corpus constitutes “an abuse of the writ,” because Magwood could have raised the fair-warning claim in his first petition. According to the States, the purpose of § 2254 is to encourage claimants to include all of their claims in one petition so as to simplify the habeas process and allow for the timely litigation of claims. Allowing Magwood’s second petition would, essentially, render § 2254 ineffective and enable subsequent claimants to file numerous, successive claims which ought to have been filed in a single petition.
The States do concede that a claim-by-claim approach must be used to determine whether a second claim is, in fact, new and ripe, in which case, § 2254(b) would not bar it. . But the States contend that a claim that has been “definitively disposed of” in prior proceedings or that could have been raised (as in this case) in the first petition is “second or successive” and, therefore, barred under § 2254.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, et al. (“NACDL”), counter that the Eleventh Circuit’s decision below would create a new and unique procedural rule that would either swallow or preempt potential constitutional issues a habeas petitioner might wish to bring. The NACDL is concerned that the Eleventh Circuit’s rule would be unfair to habeas petitioners. It would require petitioners to raise every possible constitutional issue to avoid a bar against their receiving federal habeas relief on a claim that was or could have been raised. This would detract from state procedural rules and a petitioner’s compliance therewith and shift the focus to whether the petitioner had or could have raised his claim in the petition that led to the retrial or resentencing.
Thus, in the NACDL’s view, if the Supreme Court were to affirm the Eleventh Circuit’s dismissal of Magwood’s claim, it would deprive a group of potential habeas petitioners of their right to the habeas petition. Namely, petitioners who were successful in their first petition would be unable to receive federal review of the many claims that go to the validity of their new sentence. According to NACDL, the end result would result in confusion regarding what constitutes a “second or successive” claim, and potential petitioners would inundate courts with unnecessarily comprehensive petitions to preserve all possible claims.
Thus, the Supreme Court must decide whether Magwood’s second habeas petition is barred under the AEDPA, because he could have raised its claims in his first petition.
This case will determine whether Congress intended the phrase “second or successive” to refer to the number of paper applications against the same judgment or to previous opportunities to assert the same claim. Although both parties conduct textual and historical analyses of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b), they disagree as to whether Magwood’s subsequent petition is an abuse of the writ. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will likely clarify the statute’s intent and determine which party’s interpretation both comports with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s goals of “comity, finality and federalism” as well as procedural justice.