Johnson v. Williams

PETITIONER:Deborah K. Johnson, Acting Warden of the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla
RESPONDENT:Tara Sheneva Williams
LOCATION:District Court for the Southern District of New York

DOCKET NO.: 11-465
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 568 US (2013)
GRANTED: Jan 13, 2012
ARGUED: Oct 03, 2012
DECIDED: Feb 20, 2013

Kurt D. Hermansen – for the respondent
Stephanie Brenan – Deputy Attorney General, for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1999, Tara Williams was charged with the 1993 robbery-murder of Hung Mun Kim. During jury deliberations at Williams’ trial, the judge received a jury note saying that one of the jurors, juror number six, expressed an intention to disregard the law due to a concern about the severity of the charge of first-degree murder. After an inquiry and evidentiary hearing, the judge dismissed the juror for bias.

Williams appealed, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion when it removed juror number six, because the removal of the “lone holdout” juror violated Williams’ Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury. The California Court of Appeals rejected her claim as meritless, and the California Supreme Court denied further direct appellate review.

Williams filed a state habeas corpus petition in Los Angleles County Superior Court. The court denied the petition, ruling that the issues raised in the petition were issues for direct appeal, not collateral attack. Williams next filed a federal habeas corpus petition, in which she again challenged the removal of juror number six. The magistrate judge concluded that the trial court’s factual finding of bias was entitled to deference and that the discharge of juror number six did not constitute a constitutional violation. The district court adopted the report of the magistrate judge and dismissed the petition with prejudice.

Williams appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court reversed the district court, holding that the deferential-review standard did not apply because the California Court of Appeal had only reviewed her state claim and had not adjudicated her federal constitutional claim. The appellate court then conducted a review of Williams’ federal claim and concluded that the Sixth Amendment does not allow a trial judge to discharge a juror on account of his views on the merits of the case. The State of California appealed to the appellate court’s decision.


Is a habeas petitioner’s claim “adjudicated on the merits” if the state court denied relief in an explained decision but did not expressly acknowledge the federal-law basis for the claim?

Media for Johnson v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 03, 2012 in Johnson v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 20, 2013 in Johnson v. Williams

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

And Justice Alito has our opinion in Case No. 11-465, Johnson vs. Williams.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

The question in this case concerns the meaning of the phrase “adjudicated on the merits and the provision of the federal habeas statute”.

This question, which implicates the standard of review in federal habeas proceedings, arises when a state court is arguably presented with a federal claim but does not address that claim in an opinion that, while denying relief, discusses other claims.

Applying our decision in Harrington versus Richter, we hold that in these circumstances, there is a strong but rebuttable presumption that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits.

We further hold that this presumption was not rebutted in the present case.

Therefore, the decision of the Ninth Circuit is reversed.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.