Roper v. Weaver

PETITIONER: Don Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center
RESPONDENT: William Weaver
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 06-313
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 550 US 598 (2007)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2006
ARGUED: Mar 21, 2007
DECIDED: May 21, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Andrea K. Spillars - on behalf of the Petitioner
John H. Blume - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

William Weaver was convicted of the first degree murder of a prospective witness in a drug trial. During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecutor gave a closing statement arguing for a death sentence. In the course of the statement, the prosecutor said: "You've got to think beyond William Weaver [...] This is society's worst nightmare" and "Sometimes killing is not only fair and justified; it's right. Sometimes it's your duty [...] it's right to kill him [Weaver] now." The jury sentenced Weaver to death. Weaver appealed in state court, arguing that the prosecutor's statements had inflamed and prejudiced the jury.

The Missouri state courts denied the appeal, but a federal District Court granted habeas corpus. The District Court overturned the sentence, ruling that the "unfairly inflammatory" closing statement had violated Weaver's right to due process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the state cited the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which states that federal courts shall not grant a prisoner's habeas petition unless the state court's decision was "contrary to [...] clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." The Eighth Circuit had cited some Supreme Court cases pertaining to prejudicial closing statements in the guilt phase of the trial, but the state argued that the federal courts should not have granted habeas relief, because the Supreme Court had not specifically addressed the issue of closing statements in the penalty phase.

Question

Does a federal Court of Appeals exceed its authority under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 by overturning a death sentence on the ground that the prosecutor's penalty phase closing argument was "unfairly inflammatory"?

Media for Roper v. Weaver

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 2007 in Roper v. Weaver

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 21, 2007 in Roper v. Weaver

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

In case 06-313, Roper versus Weaver the court has dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.

I have concurred separately in that result.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissent joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.