RESPONDENT: Jon Fisher, Superintendent, State Correctional Institution at Smithfield, et al.
LOCATION: Court of Common Pleas-Criminal Division
DOCKET NO.: 10-637
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 565 US (2011)
GRANTED: Apr 04, 2011
ARGUED: Oct 11, 2011
DECIDED: Nov 08, 2011
Jeffrey L. Fisher - for the petitioner
Ronald Eisenberg - for the respondents
Facts of the case
A jury found Eric Greene guilty of second-degree murder and other crimes, and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment because he participated in a grocery store robbery that left the owner dead. Greene was tried along with four co-defendants, two of whom made pretrial statements that linked Greene to the robbery. The prosecution used redacted versions of these statements as evidence, but because the co-defendants did not testify in court, Greene could not use cross-examination to challenge the statements.
Greene appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Among other arguments, he renewed his Confrontation Clause claim. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed, holding that the codefendants' confessions as redacted did not so clearly implicate Greene as to violate the Confrontation Clause and Greene then filed a timely petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, again pressing his Confrontation Clause claim. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the petition but eight months later dismissed the appeal "as having been improvidently granted."
In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gray v. Maryland that the constitution forbids prosecutors from using redacted statements like those of Greene's co-defendants. Greene asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to vacate his conviction under a process known as "habeas corpus." By federal statute, habeas relief is allowed only when a state court violates "clearly established Federal law." The district court held that Greene could not rely on Gray because that decision was not "clearly established" when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling.
Does a Supreme Court decision qualify as "clearly established Federal law" under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, if that Supreme Court decision was entered after the relevant state-court adjudication on the merits ?
Media for Greene v. FisherAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 2011 in Greene v. Fisher
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 08, 2011 in Greene v. Fisher
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
We have the first opinion of the term in an argued case this year from Justice Scalia in Greene versus Fisher.
This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
In December of 1993, the petitioner Eric Greene and four coconspirators robbed a grocery store and killed the store's owner.
After a joint trial, a jury convicted Greene of second-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy.
Greene appealed arguing that the introduction of his codefendants' redacted confessions during trial, violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court -- Superior Court upheld the conviction, rejecting Greene's Confrontation Clause claim on the merits.
Greene petitioned for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
While that petition was pending, we decided a case called Gray versus Maryland, which strongly supported Greene's Confrontation Clause claim.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to hear Greene's appeal, however, and Greene did not file a petition for writ of certiorari from this Court.
Instead, he filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, asserting the same Confrontation Clause claim.
The District Court denied the petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which we call AEDPA.
AEDPA prohibits a federal court from granting habeas relief to a state prisoner on any claim that has been "adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings," unless that adjudication "resulted in a decision that was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of United States."
The District Court concluded that our decision in Gray was -- was not yet the law at the time of the Pennsylvania Superior Court's adjudication, the adjudication of the intermediate court, and the condition for Gray for granting habeas relief had therefore not been met.
The Third Circuit affirmed.
We granted certiorari and we now affirm.
We hold that under AEDPA "clearly established Federal laws determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" includes only this Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court adjudication on the merits.
As we explained last term in Cullen versus Pinholster AEDPA's, and this is a quote from the case, AEDPA's backward looking language requires an examination of the state court decision at the time it was made.
In conducting that examination the federal courts may measure state court decisions only against Supreme Court precedents that existed when the state court ruled.
Any other approach would permit the federal courts to evaluate state court decisions with the benefit of hindsight which as Cullen established, AEDPA does not permit.
And contrary to Greene's contentions, this Court's decision in Teague versus Lane does not suggest a different result.
I might add and the opinion adds that the -- in -- in a way the petitioner here was -- was the architect of -- of his own difficulty.
He could have sought certiorari from this Court and under our usual practice because of the intervening Supreme Court decision in -- in Gray, we almost certainly would have granted the petition and vacated -- vacated the judgment and remanded for consideration by the Pennsylvania courts in the light of Gray.
He didn't do that.
He went right to federal habeas and AEDPA does not permit federal habeas to be granted on these grounds.
Because the last state court adjudication on the merits was neither contrary to, nor involved an unreasonable application of any decision of this Court that existed at the time AEDPA bars the federal courts from granting Greene's application for a writ of habeas corpus.
The Court's decision is unanimous.