Magwood v. Patterson

PETITIONER:Billy Joe Magwood
RESPONDENT:Tony Patterson, Warden, et al.
LOCATION: Holman Correctional Facility

DOCKET NO.: 09-158
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 561 US 320 (2010)
GRANTED: Nov 16, 2009
ARGUED: Mar 24, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 24, 2010

Corey L. Maze – Solicitor General of Alabama, for the respondent
Jeffrey L. Fisher – for the petitioner (appointed by the Court)

Facts of the case

An Alabama state court convicted Billy Joe Magwood of murder and sentenced him to death. Subsequently, an Alabama federal district court partially granted Mr. Magwood’s petition for federal habeas corpus relief. The court upheld his conviction but instructed the state court to look at mitigating evidence when resentencing Mr. Magwood. Upon resentencing, the state court sentenced Mr. Magwood to death once again. Mr. Magwood filed a second petition for federal habeas corpus relief with the federal district court arguing that a judicial rule was retroactively applied in his case and that he lacked effective counsel at sentencing. The district court granted the petition and vacated Mr. Magwood’s death sentence.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh circuit reversed, holding that prisoners may not raise challenges to an original sentence that could have been raised in an earlier petition. The court also held that Mr. Magwood’s counsel was not ineffective because he failed to raise an argument that had already been decided by the state’s highest court adverse to his client’s position.


When a person is resentenced after having obtained federal habeas corpus relief from an earlier sentence, is a claim in a federal habeas petition challenging the new sentencing judgment a “successive claim,” and therefore prohibited, if the petitioner could have challenged his previously imposed sentence on the same constitutional grounds?

Media for Magwood v. Patterson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 24, 2010 in Magwood v. Patterson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 24, 2010 in Magwood v. Patterson

Clarence Thomas:

The Second case I have to announce number 09-158, Magwood versus Patterson.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Petitioner Magwood murdered a sheriff and was sentenced to death in 1981.

The state courts denied relief, but the Federal District Court granted a conditional writ of Habeas Corpus on the ground that state trial failed to consider Magwood’s metal problems when sentencing him to death.

The state trial court held a complete and new sentencing hearing, took Magwood’s mental problems into account and entered a new death sentence in 1986.

The Alabama courts denied relief from the new sentence, but the District Court granted another conditional writ of habeas Corpus.

This time the District Court found that the Alabama law at the time of Magwood’s crime did not provide them with fair warning that the crime made him eligible for the death penalty.

The state appealed, arguing that Magwood’s fair warning claim should have been dismissed under 28 U.S.C., Section 2244(b), a provision of the federal habeas corpus statute that restricts review of claims presented in second or successive Habeas applications.

Agreeing with the state, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision granting relief on the fair warning claim.

We granted certiorari and now reverse.

Magwood presented his fair warning claim in his first application challenging his new death sentence.

And a first application challenging a new judgment cannot be second or successive under Section 2244(b).

Accordingly for the reasons more fully explained in an opinion filed with the clerk today we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Stevens and Sotomayor join.

Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg and Alito join.