[ OConnor ]
[ Rehnquist ]
[ Scalia ]
[ Thomas ]
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
TENNARD v. DRETKE, DIRECTOR, TEXAS
DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CORRECTIONAL
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
During his capital murder trials penalty phase, petitioner Tennard presented evidence that he had an IQ of 67. The jury was instructed to determine the appropriate punishment by considering two special issues, which inquired into whether the crime was committed deliberately and whether the defendant posed a risk of future dangerousness. These were materially identical to two special issues found insufficient, in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, for the jury to give effect to Penrys mitigating mental retardation and childhood abuse evidence. Tennards jury answered both special issues affirmatively and Tennard was sentenced to death. The Federal District Court denied Tennards federal habeas petition in which he claimed that his death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment as interpreted in Penry, and denied a certificate of appealability (COA). The Fifth Circuit agreed that Tennard was not entitled to a COA. It applied a threshold test to Tennards mitigating evidence, asking whether it met the Fifth Circuits standard of constitutional relevance in Penry casesthat is, whether it was evidence of a uniquely severe permanent handicap that bore a nexus to the crime. The court concluded that (1) low IQ evidence alone does not constitute a uniquely severe condition, and no evidence tied Tennards IQ to retardation, and (2) even if his low IQ amounted to mental retardation evidence, Tennard did not show that his crime was attributable to it. After this Court vacated the judgment and remanded for further consideration in light of Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, the Fifth Circuit reinstated its prior opinion.
Held: Because reasonable jurists would find the district courts assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong, Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484, a COA should have issued. Pp. 715.
(a) A COA should issue if an applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find the district courts assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong, 529 U.S., at 484. Relief may not be granted unless the state court adjudication was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by this Court. §2254(d)(1). Pp. 78.
Fifth Circuit assessed Tennards Penry claim under
an improper standard. Its threshold constitutional
relevance screening test has no foundation in this
Courts decisions. Relevance was not at issue in
Penry. And this Court spoke in the most expansive terms
when addressing the relevance standard directly in McKoy
v. North Carolina, 494 U.S. 433,
440441, finding applicable the general evidentiary
(c) Turning to the analysis that the Fifth Circuit should have conducted, reasonable jurists could conclude that Tennards low IQ evidence was relevant mitigating evidence, and that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals application of Penry was unreasonable, since the relationship between the special issues and Tennards low IQ evidence has the same essential features as that between those issues and Penrys mental retardation evidence. Impaired intellectual functioning has mitigating dimension beyond the impact it has on the ability to act deliberately. A reasonable jurist could conclude that the jury might have given the low IQ evidence aggravating effect in considering Tennards future dangerousness. Indeed, the prosecutor pressed exactly the most problematic interpretation of the special issues, suggesting that Tennards low IQ was irrelevant in mitigation, but relevant to future dangerousness. Pp. 1315.
317 F.3d 476, reversed and remanded.
OConnor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, C. J., Scalia, J., and Thomas, J., filed dissenting opinions.