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Bobby v. Bies

June 1, 2009


On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit Court Below: 519 F. 3d 324



Argued April 27, 2009

In Atkins v. Virginia, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Ginsburg

Opinion of the Court

556 U. S. ____ (2009)

In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304 (2002), this Court held that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments" bars execution of mentally retarded offenders. Prior to Atkins, the Court had determined that mental retardation merited consideration as a mitigating factor, but did not bar imposition of the death penalty. See Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302 (1989).

In 1992, nearly a decade before the Court's decision in Atkins, respondent Michael Bies was tried and convicted in Ohio of the aggravated murder, kidnaping, and attempted rape of a ten-year-old boy. Instructed at the sentencing stage to weigh mitigating circumstances (including evidence of Bies' mild to borderline mental retardation) against aggravating factors (including the brutality of the crime), the jury recommended a sentence of death, which the trial court imposed. Ohio's appellate courts affirmed the conviction and sentence. The Ohio Supreme Court, in its 1996 opinion on direct review, observed that Bies' "mild to borderline mental retardation merit[ed] some weight in mitigation," but concluded that "the aggravating circumstances outweigh[ed] the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Bies, 74 Ohio St. 3d 320, 328, 658 N. E. 2d 754, 761-762.

After this Court decided Atkins, the Ohio trial court ordered a full hearing on the question of Bies' mental capacity. The federal courts intervened, however, granting habeas relief to Bies, and ordering the vacation of his death sentence. Affirming the District Court's judgment, the Sixth Circuit reasoned that the Ohio Supreme Court, in 1996, had definitively determined, as a matter of fact, Bies' mental retardation. That finding, the Court of Appeals concluded, established Bies' "legal entitlement to a life sentence." Bies v. Bagley, 519 F. 3d 324, 334, n. 6 (CA6 2008). Therefore, the Sixth Circuit ruled, the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Federal Constitution barred any renewed inquiry into the matter of Bies' mental state.

We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The Sixth Circuit, in common with the District Court, fundamentally misperceived the application of the Double Jeopardy Clause and its issue preclusion (collateral estoppel) component.*fn1 First, Bies was not "twice put in jeopardy." He was sentenced to death, and Ohio sought no further prosecution or punishment. Instead of "serial prosecutions by the government[,] this case involves serial efforts by the defendant to vacate his capital sentence." Bies v. Bagley, 535 F. 3d 520, 531-532 (CA6 2008) (Sutton, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). Further, mental retardation for purposes of Atkins, and mental retardation as one mitigator to be weighed against aggravators, are discrete issues. Most grave among the Sixth Circuit's misunderstandings, issue preclusion is a plea available to prevailing parties. The doctrine bars relitigation of determinations necessary to the ultimate outcome of a prior proceeding. The Ohio courts' recognition of Bies' mental state as a mitigating factor was hardly essential to the death sentence he received. On the contrary, the retardation evidence cut against the final judgment. Issue preclusion, in short, does not transform final judgment losers, in civil or criminal proceedings, into partially prevailing parties.


For his part in brutally causing the death of a ten-year-old boy, Bies was convicted by an Ohio jury of attempted rape, kidnaping, and aggravated murder with three death penalty specifications. App. 85; Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §2929.04(A)(3), (7) (Lexis 2006).

At sentencing, Bies presented testimony from clinical psychiatrist Donna E. Winter, who had evaluated him at the court's order during the guilt phase and again before the mitigation hearing. App. 191, 202. Bies did not qualify for a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Dr. Winter concluded, because he knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense. Id., at 36, 51, 198-200. Bies' IQ, she further reported, fell in the 65-75 range, id., at 211-212, indicating that he is "mildly mentally retarded to borderline mentally retarded," id., at 20-21, 32, 199-200, 213. Dr. Winter also observed: "[Bies] goes about the community, unassisted [and] carries out the activities of daily life fairly independently." Id., at 199. The State responded to Bies' mitigating evidence by emphasizing the brutality of the murder and the risk of Bies' future dangerousness. Instructed to weigh the mitigating circumstances against aggravating factors, the jury recommended a death sentence, which the trial court imposed. Id., at 88-89.

The Ohio Court of Appeals and Supreme Court each independently reviewed the evidence and affirmed. Id., at 84-108; Bies, 74 Ohio St. 3d 320, 658 N. E. 2d 754. Neither court devoted detailed attention to the issue of retardation. Both concluded that Bies' mild to borderline mental retardation merited "some weight" in mitigation, as did his youth and lack of a criminal record. App. 105-106; 74 Ohio St. 3d, at 328, 658 N. E. 2d, at 762. The aggravating circumstances, each court found, overwhelmed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. ...

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