Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal

RESPONDENT: Martinez-Villareal
LOCATION: Randon Bragdon's Dental Office

DOCKET NO.: 97-300
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 637 (1998)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1998
DECIDED: May 18, 1998

Bruce M. Ferg - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Denise I. Young - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Ramon Martinez-Villareal was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Arizona. His first three federal habeas corpus petitions were denied because he had not exhausted his state remedies. Martinez-Villareal claimed in his fourth habeas petition that he was incompetent to be executed. The District Court dismissed that claim as premature, but granted the writ on other grounds. The Court of Appeals reversed the writ. Martinez-Villareal moved to reopen his petition despite the fact that review of his incompetency claim might be prevented by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Under AEDPA, a prisoner must ask the Court of Appeals to direct the District Court to consider such a petition. By now Arizona had obtained a warrant for Martinez-Villareal's execution. Subsequently, he was found fit to be executed. The District Court denied another motion to reopen his incompetency claim, holding that it lacked jurisdiction under AEDPA. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the law did not apply to a petition that raises only a competency-to-be-executed claim and that Martinez-Villareal did not, therefore, need authorization to file his petition in the District Court.


May a state prison death row inmate who already has lost on one or more federal habeas corpus petitions file a subsequent petition to claim that he cannot be executed because he is incompetent?

Media for Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1998 in Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll go on to Number 97-300, Terry Stewart v. Ramon Martinez-Villareal.

Mr. Ferg, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Bruce M. Ferg:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

It has been said that the principles which guide this Court's habeas corpus jurisprudence are finality, federalism, and fairness.

In 1996, Congress conducted its own assessment of those principles and recalibrated the instrument of statutory habeas corpus in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, so now there is a fourth principle which might be called fidelity which must be applied here, by which I mean that this Court, as the supervisor of the lower Federal court system, must ensure that the lower courts are faithfully applying the plain meaning and clear intent of that act.

It is critical to read this statute on its own terms, because we sometimes find that we have in effect new wine in old bottles, the same concepts but with new meaning and, therefore, we have to read the statute very, very carefully to understand what exactly it is that Congress was doing.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, do you think that Congress may have been trying to tighten up the court's abuse of the writ standards in passing AEDPA?

Bruce M. Ferg:

Yes, Your Honor.

As a matter of fact, as I pointed out, the way 2244 has been modified simply expunges the concept of abuse of the writ, so that we now have in effect some very clear designations of what is a successive petition and this kind of amorphous concept--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Before we had AEDPA, did courts, do you think, apply abuse of the writ standards to Ford claims at all?

Bruce M. Ferg:

--No, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I don't think they did.

A Ford claim is a little different, since it seems to arise later after the conviction and the sentence and relate to a defendant's mental condition at the time of a scheduled execution, so it wasn't the kind of application that triggered abuse of the writ analysis before AEDPA, was it?

Bruce M. Ferg:

Well, yes and no.

The lower courts did not address that, but this Court in Woodard v. Hutchins did deal with a contention that the individual was currently insane as he was approaching execution.

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Bruce M. Ferg:

And it was indicated by five justices here that that was, in fact, a contention that was subject to abuse of the writ analysis, and so even before AEDPA there had been the indication that in fact that kind of a claim might well be--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

What do you think we do post-AEDPA with claims that really arise later, such as claims arising out of the establishment of good time credits or something of that sort?

What do we do?

Do we say that that's a successive application for habeas if the thing couldn't even have been raised until good time credits were denied?

Bruce M. Ferg:

--It may well be.

The reason for that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is that the position you take, that AEDPA goes that far and that it extends to even those things that could not have arisen before--

Bruce M. Ferg:

--Yes, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--the claim was made?

Bruce M. Ferg:

Because of the plain language of that second exception--

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Bruce M. Ferg:

--which says that if it is a matter which you could not have brought the facts forward before, nonetheless, if it does not go to guilt-innocence determinations, then it's excluded.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

How about a Rose v. Lundy problem?

An applicant comes in with several claims on Federal habeas and the district court says, well, you didn't exhaust in State court some of these.