LOCATION: Austin's Auto Body Shop and mobile home
DOCKET NO.: 91-1393
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
CITATION: 506 US 364 (1993)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1992
DECIDED: Jan 25, 1993
Amy L. Wax - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae supporting the Petitioner
General Winston Bryant - for petitioner
Ricky Reed Medlock - on behalf of the Respondent
Winston Bryant - on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Lockhart v. Fretwell
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 1992 in Lockhart v. Fretwell
William H. Rehnquist:
We'll hear argument now in Number 91-1393, A.L. Lockhart v. Bobby Ray Fretwell.
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:
The petitioner believes the general issue in this case to be whether counsel for Mr. Fretwell was ineffective under the Sixth Amendment when he failed to raise a double-counting issue that may have benefited him at the time of the trial but which has subsequently been shown by a decision of this Court to be without merit.
I would like to recite a few of the facts in this case, because their order is important.
In April of 1985, Fretwell lied in wait, entered the home of the victim, stole his money at gunpoint, and shot the victim in the head and killed him.
Fretwell and two companions fled in the victim's pickup truck.
Fretwell was tried in August of 1985, and the jury convicted him of capital felony murder.
The case was bifurcated into a guilt-innocence phase and a penalty phase.
After conviction, the court instructed the jury on two aggravating circumstances: 1) murder committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing an arrest, and 2) murder committed for pecuniary gain.
The jury found only murder for pecuniary gain as an aggravating circumstance, and found no mitigating circumstances.
Fretwell's counsel failed to object to the submission of pecuniary gain to the jury despite the fact that the Eighth Circuit had handed down Collins v. Lockhart in January of the same year, in 1985.
Collins held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the use of pecuniary gain as an aggravating circumstance in capital felony murder trials where murder... where robbery-murder is the capital offense at issue.
Fretwell then appealed his conviction to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The issue of double counting was raised, but the court, the supreme court, decided... declined to decide the issue because it had not been raised at the trial level.
Then in April of '87 the Arkansas Supreme Court denied Fretwell's application for post-judgment relief.
Then in May of that year, 1987, he filed a habeas petition in Federal district court claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.
Now, in January of 1988, shortly after he filed his habeas petition, this Court handed down Lowenfield v. Phelps.
Lowenfield held that a death sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment simply because an aggravating circumstance found by the jury duplicated an element of the underlying criminal offense.
To pass constitutional muster, a capital sentencing scheme must genuinely narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty.
William H. Rehnquist:
General Bryant, the question you present in your petition for certiorari seems to me to assume that the Collins case was properly overruled by the Eighth Circuit on the basis of Lowenfield.
I don't see that we have here any issue as to whether that overruling was correct or not.
That is correct, Chief Justice Rehnquist.
It was overruled by the Perry case... well, actually, the Lowenfield case prior to the Perry case... but the issue before this Court in the opinion of the State is whether or not the ineffective assistance of counsel claim under the Sixth Amendment has been met, and the State's position is that when Lowenfield was decided it was based on a decision by this Court in Jurek v. Texas, decided in 1976, and therefore was not new law that applied to the Fretwell situation.
After Lowenfield was decided, the Eighth Circuit in the Perry case, Perry v. Lockhart, which overruled Collins, specifically considered the death sentencing scheme in Arkansas and said that it was not indistinguishable from that in the Lowenfield decision, which talked about the death penalty sentencing scheme in the State of Louisiana.
But after that, the Federal district court in Little Rock issued a decision and rejected all claims that Fretwell had made in his habeas petition, except to the extent that the court found that the was ineffective assistance of counsel because the pecuniary gain as an aggravating circumstance had not been objected to at the trial court level, and then the district court directed that Mr. Fretwell either be resentenced or his conviction reduced to life without parole.
And then in September of 1991 the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision with one exception.
They directed that Mr. Fretwell's sentence be reduced to life without parole.
John Paul Stevens:
Well, just to follow up on the question by the Chief Justice, is it open to the respondent to argue that the Eighth Circuit case, Collins, improperly... was improperly overruled, that it was right all the time?