RESPONDENT: John David Stumpf
LOCATION: City of New London Town Hall
DOCKET NO.: 04-637
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 545 US 175 (2005)
GRANTED: Jan 07, 2005
ARGUED: Apr 19, 2005
DECIDED: Jun 13, 2005
Alan M. Freedman - argued the cause for Respondent
Douglas R. Cole - argued the cause for Petitioner
Facts of the case
In Ohio state court proceedings, Stumpf pled guilty in to aggravated murder committed in an armed robbery. That robbery had left Mr. Stout wounded and Mrs. Stout dead. While Stumpf admitted to shooting Mr. Stout, he insisted his accomplice Wesley had shot Mrs. Stout. A three-judge panel ruled Stumpf the principal offender in Mrs. Stout's murder and sentenced him to death. Following this, in Wesley's trial, the state presented evidence that Wesley had admitted to shooting Mrs. Stout. After Wesley's trial, Stumpf moved to withdraw his plea or reverse his death sentence, arguing that the evidence presented by the prosecution in Wesley's trial was inconsistent with what it had presented in his own. This, Stumpf argued, cast doubt on his conviction and sentence. Stumpf's motion was unscucessful in Ohio courts. A federal district court denied Stumpf habeas relief, but the Sixth Circuit reversed.
(1) Was Stumpf's guilty plea to aggravated murder knowing, voluntary and intelligent? (2) Was his conviction valid, despite the state's use of a theory in the trial of Stumpf's accomplice that was inconsistent with its argument in Stumpf's trial?
Media for Bradshaw v. StumpfAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 2005 in Bradshaw v. Stumpf
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 13, 2005 in Bradshaw v. Stumpf
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in Bradshaw against Stumpf will be announced by Justice O'Connor.
Sandra Day O'Connor:
This case comes on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The responded, Stumpf entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to death for committing aggravated murder as part of his armed robbery of a married couple in Ohio.
He acted with an accomplice.
Although, Stumpf admitted both that he took part in the robbery and that he shot the husband who happened to survive, Stumpf has always claimed that his accomplice shot the wife who died.
Stumpf's petition for federal writ of habeas corpus was denied by the District Court but the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed granting Stumpf relief on habeas corpus on two grounds.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we reverse the Sixth Circuit's judgment in part, we vacate it in part, and we remand for further proceedings.
The Court of Appeals first concluded that Stumpf's conviction was invalid because he entered the guilty plea without knowing the elements of the crime at issue.
We reverse this portion of the judgment below because we find that Stumpf was properly informed of the elements of the crime.
At the plea hearing, Stumpf's attorneys told the Court that they had explained the crimes elements to Stumpf, a representation that Stumpf himself affirmed on record.
The Sixth Circuit thought that Stumpf who has always denied the killing of the wife, would not have entered the guilty plea had he known that a conviction for aggravated murder requires proof of the defendant's intent to cause death.
But Stumpf's conviction for aggravated murder is consistent with his claim that his accomplice in the robbery shot the victim.
Ohio's Death Penalty Statute covers those who aid and abet another person to kill so long as the aiding and abetting is itself done with the intent to cause death, and Stumpf's role in the crime provided an adequate basis for finding the requirements met under Ohio Law.
The Court of Appeals also concluded that Stumpf's conviction and sentence could not stand because the state when it prosecuted Stumpf's accomplice advanced an inconsistent theory of the crime that contradicted the theory advanced by the prosecutor in Stumpf's own case.
In seeking the death penalty against Stumpf, the state argued and the Sentencing Court agreed that Stumpf himself shot and killed the wife.
In prosecuting Stumpf's accomplice, however, the state argued that Stumpf's accomplice had shot and killed the wife.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong to interpret this inconsistency as voiding Stumpf's guilty plea to the aggravated murder because as explained above, Ohio's statute covers Stumpf regardless of which person shot and killed the victim.
The prosecutor's arguments may have had a more direct effect on the death sentence given to Stumpf however.
The opinion of the Court of Appeals leaves some ambiguity about the extent to which the Court of Appeals considered the sentencing issue separate from the conviction question, and the parties briefing to this Court focused on the conviction rather than the sentence.
Under these circumstances, we do not make a decision on the merits of Stumpf's sentencing claims at this time instead we vacate this portion of the judgment below and remand the case so that the Court of Appeals may in the first instance consider the sentencing claim independent of the conviction claim.
The decision is unanimous.
Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion which Justice Ginsburg has joined; Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion which Justice Scalia has joined.