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Smith v. Dunn

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 21, 2017

WILLIE B. SMITH, III, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the court's March 29, 2017 order (Doc. # 47), which reopened this action for the sole purpose of considering the effect of Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039 (2017) on the Atkins issue presented in this case. (See Doc. # 46 at 1-2). The issues raised in the court's order are fully briefed. (Docs. # 55, 56).

         I. Background

         Petitioner filed this § 2254 action alleging that his conviction and sentence were secured in violation of his rights under the Constitution. (See Doc. # 1). Among other grounds for relief, Petitioner claimed that he is intellectually disabled, and as such, ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. # 1-1 at ¶¶ 108-134). The court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Final Judgment on March 28, 2017, which denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus and dismissed the petition with prejudice. (See Docs. # 45, 46). The court granted Petitioner a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably applied Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), in holding that Petitioner failed to prove that he was intellectually disabled, and, thus, ineligible for the death penalty. (Doc. # 46 at 1-2).

         On March 29, 2017, the court reopened this action for the purpose of considering the effect of Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039, 197 L.Ed.2d 416 (2017). (Doc. # 47). The court directed the parties to answer five questions in their briefing of the issue:

1. Whether Moore's holding(s) constitute “clearly established Federal law” that must be applied by this court when reviewing whether the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals issued a decision contrary to clearly established law or unreasonably applying clearly established law under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Cf. Kilgore v. Sec'y, Florida Dep't of Corr., 805 F.3d 1301, 1310-12 (11th Cir. 2015) (concluding that Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014), established a new obligation on state courts in making intellectual disability determinations that was not clearly established by Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002));
2. Whether Moore announced a new rule of constitutional law that must be applied retroactively to this case, pursuant to Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). Cf. Kilgore, 805 F.3d at 1312-15 (concluding that Hall's holding did not fall under a Teague exception to non-retroactivity);
3. Whether the Alabama courts unreasonably applied clearly established federal law or issued a decision contrary to clearly established federal law by failing to apply an adjustment to Smith's credible IQ score to account for the test's standard error;
4. Whether the Alabama courts unreasonably applied clearly established federal law or issued a decision contrary to clearly established federal law by considering Smith's adaptive strengths when examining whether he had sufficient adaptive deficits to be deemed intellectually disabled; and
5. Whether the Alabama courts unreasonably applied clearly established federal law or issued a decision contrary to clearly established federal law by failing to identify a clinical medical standard that they used to determine intellectual disability, such as those located in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the clinical manual issued by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

(Id. at 1-2).

         II. The Moore Opinion

         In Moore, the Supreme Court vacated the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment. Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1044. Moore had challenged his death sentence on the ground that he was intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution. Id. While the state habeas court determined that Moore qualified as intellectually disabled, the Texas appellate court declined to adopt the judgment recommended by the state habeas court.[1] Id. The appellate court reasoned that the evidentiary factors announced in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (2004) “weigh[ed] heavily” against upsetting Moore's death sentence. Id. (citing Ex parte Moore, 470 S.W.3d 481, 526 (2015)). While the state habeas court consulted current medical diagnostic standards in making its recommendation, the appellate court reaffirmed Briseno as binding precedent on intellectual disability issues in Texas capital cases. Id. at 1046 (citing Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d at 7).

         Employing Briseno, the Texas appellate court discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with Moore's IQ scores, and determined that he had failed to prove significantly subaverage intellectual functioning. Id., at 1047 (citing Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d at 514-19). The appellate court then reasoned that even if Moore had proven that he suffers from significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, he failed to prove “significant and related limitations in adaptive functioning.” Id. (citing Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d at 520). The appellate court credited Moore's adaptive strengths as more illustrative of his intellectual functioning than his adaptive weaknesses, and noted that the Briseno factors “weigh[ed] heavily” against finding that Moore's adaptive deficits were related to his intellectual functioning deficits. Id. (citing Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d at 488-89, 522-27).

         However, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and found that the state appellate court's adherence to superseded medical standards and its reliance on Briseno did not comply with either the Eighth Amendment or the Court's precedents. Id. at 1053. The Court held that the state appellate court's conclusion that Moore's IQ scores established that he was not intellectually disabled was irreconcilable with its decision in Hall. Id. at 1049 (citing Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986, 2000 (2014)). Hall instructs that ...


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