LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
DOCKET NO.: 01-1127
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 538 US 63 (2003)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 2002
DECIDED: Mar 05, 2003
Charles L. Hobson - for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Douglas P. Danzig - San Diego, California, argued the cause for the petitioner
Deputy Attorney General - for petitioner
Erwin Chemerinsky - Argued the cause for the respondent
Kent S. Scheidegger - for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Facts of the case
Leandro Andrade was found guilty of two felony counts of petty theft with a prior conviction after he stole approximately $150 worth of videotapes. Under California's three strikes regime, a judge sentenced him to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life. In affirming, the California Court of Appeal rejected his claim that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. After the Supreme Court of California denied discretionary review, Andrade filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court. The District Court denied his petition. In reversing, the Court of Appeals granted Andrade a certificate of appealability as to his claim that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment.
Did the Federal Court of Appeals err in holding that California Court of Appeal's affirmation of a sentence of two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison for a "third strike" conviction was "grossly disproportionate" to the crime and thus violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment"?
Media for Lockyer v. AndradeAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 2002 in Lockyer v. Andrade
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 05, 2003 in Lockyer v. Andrade
Sandra Day O'Connor:
The second case I have to announce also arises out of California’s three strikes law, but this unlike the previous case, the UN case, comes here in collateral review, habeas review, rather than direct review as the prior case, and it comes on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
In November 1995, respondent Leandro Andrade stole approximately a $150 in videotapes from two different K-Mart Stores.
Because of Andrade’s criminal history, he was charged with two separate counts of petty theft with a prior conviction.
After a jury found him guilty, he was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life imprison under California’s three strikes law.
The State Appellate Court affirmed Andrade’s sentence.
Respondent then file a petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the length of this sentence violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel on unusual punishment.
The Ninth Circuit granted the writ concluding that the State Court committed clear error when it held that the sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reversethe judgment of the Ninth Circuit.
We noted the outset that this case comes before from habeas review.
Under the Statutory Scheme set forth in the Federal Statutes that we call AEDPA Section 2254(d), we may grant the writ of habeas only if the State Court decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.
This federal law does not require a federal habeas court to adapt any one methodology in deciding whether a State Court prisoner is entitled to relief under 2254(d).
In this case, we do not reach the question whether the State Court erred in its decision and instead focused solely on whether Section 2254(d) forecloses habeas relief on Andrade’s Eighth Amendment claims.
Clearly established law under Section 2254(d) means the governing legal principle or principle set forth by this Court the Supreme Court at the time that this State Court renders its decision.
The problem with Andrade’s position is that our precedents in this area have not been a model of clarity.
We have not established a clear or a consistent path for lower courts to follow.
Through this thicket of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, one governing legal principle emerges as clearly established.
A gross disproportionality principle is applicable to sentences for terms of years.
The precise contours of this principle are unclear however and it is applicable only in the exceedingly rare and extreme case.
Here the State Court decision was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of this clearly established gross disproportionality principle.
The decision was not to contrary to our clearly established law.
The facts here fall in between this Court's cases in Rummel versus Estelle and Solem versus Helm.
While this case resembles to some degree, both Rummel and Solem, it is not materially indistinguishable from either.
Second, the State Court decision was not an unreasonable application of this gross disproportionality principle.
We think the Ninth Circuit erred when it defined objectively unreasonable to mean clear error.
These two standards are not the same that the loss of clear error fails to give proper difference to State Courts by conflating error with unreasonableness.
Here the State Court decision was not objectively unreasonable because the governing legal principle gives legislatures broad discretion to fashion a sentence that fits within the scope of the proportionality principle the precise contours which are unclear.
Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer have joined.