Duncan v. Owens - Oral Argument - January 12, 2016

Duncan v. Owens

Media for Duncan v. Owens

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 20, 2016 in Duncan v. Owens

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 2016 in Duncan v. Owens

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument next in Case 14-1516, Duncan v. Owens. Ms. Shapiro.

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: The Seventh Circuit in this case violated AEDPA when it granted habeas relief to Respondent in the absence of precedent from this Court, clearly establishing that Respondent's allegations rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

Sonia Sotomayor:

Let's assume the judge said, instead of what he said -- so make the assumption my way -- I don't know if the witnesses are telling the truth or not, but I believe he's guilty.

I'm not sure about their credibility, but I believe he's guilty because he wanted to get rid of this guy because of a -- a drug deal gone bad. Would that violate due process?

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

It would violate due process if the judge did not find the element, the -- the -- that the evidence provided by the State proved the elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

But it would -- does not violate due process, or at least it does not clearly establish that it would violate due process, for the finder of fact to speculate about a nonelement of the crime where it is -- where the finder of fact does not disavow or otherwise --

Sonia Sotomayor:

Well, this isn't speculation.

The judge said who -- Larry Owens knew he was a drug dealer; Larry Owens wanted to knock him off; I think the State's evidence has proved that fact; finding of guilty of murder. Proved that Larry Owens wanted to knock him off?

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

The State's evidence did establish that Larry Owens wanted to knock him off, because the State's evidence established that Larry Owens approached him and hit him over the head with a baseball bat several times.

Elena Kagan:

Sorry, Ms. Shapiro.

Could I -- could I take you back, because I just didn't understand -- and I'm sure it was me -- the -- the answer that you gave to Justice Sotomayor's first question. And I think it's important, because it focuses on what the actual issue is here: How much is at issue between the parties? If you had a judge that said, I don't think the evidence is up to snuff here, and then said, the thing that takes me over the line is what I think about the defendant's motive, and that's what allows me to say that the defendant is guilty, and that had not been proved, that had -- the State had never offered that into evidence.

It really just came out of the judge's head for whatever reason.

Right? Do you think that that would be a due process violation?

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

Well, I think it would first depend somewhat on if -- on habeas review on how the State appellate court or supreme court interpreted the record and interpreted what the judge had said.

If the State appellate court interpreted what the judge had said so that the judge was saying he did not believe that the evidence produced by the State proved the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, that would be a Winship error or a Jackson error, which is not Respondent's claim here. If the State appellate court read the record, interpreted the -- what the trial court said differently and thought that the trial court did think that the -- that the evidence was sufficient but was tying it together by trying to tell a story that made sense to himself, then it would not violate --

Elena Kagan:

Yes.

Okay.

But then -- so the first alternative that you gave, and you said it's not the claim here, but I would have thought it was the claim here because you -- there is obviously a dispute about how to read these words.

And we can talk about the -- how to read these words.

Right? But once you say, as I think you said, and I think you properly said, Look, if what the -- the judge's various comments on motive was basically taking him over the line, was -- that that was the basis for the verdict of guilty, that he didn't think that all the evidence, the other evidence was enough and that that was crucial to his finding, then, if I understand you right, you would say that's a due process violation because at that point the verdict of guilty is based on evidence that was never presented.

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

If the -- if the judge found that the elements had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Elena Kagan:

Well, the judge is just saying it's not -- you know, this is not enough, and it's necessary for me to think about motive as the missing piece.

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

That does not necessarily violate due process because -- or it's -- it's certainly not clearly established that that would necessarily violate due process.

Factfinders are free to develop a theory of the case that is not presented by the State as long as it is consistent with the evidence and as long as the evidence itself is sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Elena Kagan:

Oh, I see.

So you think that it doesn't matter if the judge thought that the evidence was insufficient as long as the evidence was, in fact, sufficient.

Carolyn E. Shapiro:

If the judge said that he found the evidence insufficient, that would --

Elena Kagan:

Yes.

The judge says, you know, all of this evidence, it's not enough.

For me, motive is critical to a finding of guilt here.