LOCATION:Mississippi Governor’s Office
DOCKET NO.: 90-1074
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 502 US 62 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1991
DECIDED: Dec 04, 1991
Ann Hardgrove Voris – on behalf of the Respondent
Dane R. Gillette – on behalf of the Petitioner
Media for Estelle, Warden v. Mcguire
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 04, 1991 in Estelle, Warden v. Mcguire
William H. Rehnquist:
No. 90-1074 Estelle against Mcguire.
In this case respondent, Mark Mcguire and his wife arrived at a hospital in California with their six-month-old daughter.
The child suffered from numerous bruises and internal injuries, was bluish in color, and was not breathing.
In spite of efforts to revive, the child died 45 minutes later.
Mcguire was charged with a second degree murder of the infant.
At trial, the prosecution introduced evidence that the child had been a victim of abuse.
In particular, the battered child testimony revealed evidence of rectal tearing which was at least six weeks old and evidence of partially healed rib fractures which were approximately seven weeks old.
The prosecution also introduced evidence that Mcguire’s wife had previously voiced her fear of Mcguire’s dangerous nature and that she had expressed skepticism at Mcguire’s explanation for the infant’s death.
The jury convicted Mcguire of second degree murder.
The California State Courts affirmed the conviction holding that the evidence of prior injuries was properly admitted under state law to establish what is called the battered child syndrome.
Mcguire then sought federal habeas relief and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit set aside his conviction.
It ruled that the prior injury evidence was erroneously admitted to establish the battered child syndrome and that the Trial Court’s jury instruction on the use of prior act evidence allowed a finding of guilt based simply on the judgment that Mcguire had done bad things in the past.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and hold that state law errors are not a basis for federal habeas relief, and conclude that neither the introduction of the challenged evidence nor the jury instructions as to its use deprive Mcguire of his federal constitutional rights.
Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justice Stevens has joined.
Justice Thomas took no part in the consideration of this case.