RESPONDENT: Michael Bies
LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
DOCKET NO.: 08-598
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 556 US 825 (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 16, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 27, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 01, 2009
Benjamin C. Mizer - argued the cause for the petitioner
John H. Blume - argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
In 1992, Michael Bies was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder and sentenced to death by an Ohio court. In his appeals to the Ohio Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Ohio, Mr. Bies argued that he was mentally retarded and this fact should mitigate his sentence. Both courts affirmed his conviction and sentence, but agreed that he was mentally retarded. While Mr. Bies proceeded with his post-conviction appeals, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Atkins stating that "death is not a suitable punishment for mentally retarded people." He subsequently filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in an Ohio federal district court relying on Atkins. In response, the state claimed that Mr. Bies was not mentally retarded. Mr. Bies argued that the Double Jeopardy Clause barred the state from relitigating the fact of his mental retardation. The district court agreed and granted Mr. Bies' petition for habeas corpus relief and ordered that he be resentenced.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. It held that the state was prevented by the Double Jeopardy Clause from relitigating the Supreme Court of Ohio's determination that Mr. Bies was mentally retarded.
Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err when it applied the Double Jeopardy Clause to prevent the relitigation of the Mr. Bies's mental retardation even though the Supreme Court of Ohio did not actually determine the issue on appeal?
Media for Bobby v. BiesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 2009 in Bobby v. Bies
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 01, 2009 in Bobby v. Bies
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Ginsburg has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 08-598, Bobby verus Bies.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
In Atkins v. Virginia, decided in 2002, this Court held that the Eighth Amendment bars execution of mentally retarded offenders.
Under our pre-Atkins precedent, mental retardation, narrative consideration as a mitigating factor but did not bar in position of the death penalty.
Nearly, a decade before Atkins, respondent Michael Bies was tried and convicted in Ohio of the aggravated murder, kidnapping and attempted rape of a 10-year-old boy.
At the sentencing stage, the trial judge instructed the jury to weigh mitigating circumstances including evidence of Bies' mile to borderline mental retardation against aggravating circumstances including the crime's brutality.
The jury recommended a death sentence which the trial court imposed.
Ohio's Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court affirmed, each concluding that Bies' mental retardation was entitled to someway in litigation, but that the aggravators outweighed the mitigators.
After this Court decided Atkins, Bies sought state post conviction relief and the Court ordered a full hearing on Bies' mental capacity.
Rather than proceeding with that hearing, Bies filed a federal habeas petition in U.S. District Court, contending that the Fifth Amendments' Double Jeopardy Clause barred the State from re-litigating the issue of his mental retardation.
The District Court granted the habeas petition and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.
The Sixth Circuit identified as the controlling precedent this Court's decision in Ashe v. Swenson.
We held in Ashe that the doctrine of issue preclusion is a component of the Double Jeopardy Clause.
Issue preclusion was dispositive of Bies' case as Sixth Circuit believed of critical importance to its decision, the Sixth Circuit found necessary to the death penalty sentence.
The Ohio Court's recognition that Bies is qualified as mentally retarded.
We reverse and note first that Bies was not twice put in jeopardy.
He was convicted and sentenced to death and Ohio sought no further prosecution or punishment rather, rather than successive efforts to prosecute or punish him, this case involves successive efforts by Bies to overturn his capital sentence.
The doctrine of issue preclusion on which the Sixth Circuit relied, bars litigation of issues actually determined and necessary to the ultimate outcome of a prior proceeding.
The Federal Court of Appeals held that all requirements with issue preclusion were met in Bies' case.
That holding was in correct because mental retardation was not a conclusive or necessary determination in any Ohio court proceeding to date.
The determination ranks as necessary, only when the final outcome hinges on it.
Statements made by the Ohio Courts regarding Bies' mental capacity, plainly worth not necessary to the final outcome that is the judgment affirming his death sentence.
Further, even if court issue preclusion requirements had been met, an exemption to the doctrine's application would be warranted due to the intervening Atkins decision.
That change in law substantially alters the State's incentive to contest Bies' mental capacity.
Under Atkins, mental retardation bars a death sentence.
When Bies was tried however, retardation was only a mitigator, moreover of retardation play, pre-Atkins could backfire.
The prosecutor could seize an evidence of the defendant's diminished capacity to urge the defendant's dangerousness to others, rendering death, not like the appropriate sentence.
In short, the question whether Bies qualifies under Atkins as a mentally retarded person, ineligible for the death penalty is now right for a foreign fair determination in State Court.
Our decision corrects the Federal Court's errors in temporarily derailing that determination, the opinion of the Court is unanimous.