The Supreme Court today decided, in the case of Bobby v. Bies, that issue preclusion and the double jeopardy clause did not prevent Ohio from holding a post-conviction hearing on the issue of a defendant's mental retardation.
The defendant, Michael Bies, was convicted of the brutal murder of a ten year-old boy and sentenced to death. At the sentencing hearing, the jury considered Bies' mild to borderline mental retardation as a mitigating factor and found that the aggravating factors still warranted a death sentence. Bies' sentence came before the Supreme Court's determination in Atkins v. Virginia
that the execution of mentally retarded individuals runs afoul of the
Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and
before the Ohio Supreme Court laid out the framework for enforcing
Atkins' constitutional prohibition in State v. Lott.
came down while Bies' habeas petition was before the US district
court. The district court stayed that action while Bies' pursued an
Atkins claim in Ohio state court. Bies' moved for summary judgment,
arguing that the courts had already determined the issue of his mental
retardation, but the Ohio court found that Atkins and Lott had
materially altered the mental retardation framework. Under the new
framework, the court ruled, Bies' mental retardation was still at issue.
of proceeding with a state hearing to determine the retardation issue,
Bies went ahead with his federal habeas petition, arguing that the
doctrine of issue preclusion, as embodied in the double jeopardy
clause, prevented the state from holding a hearing to determine whether
he qualified as mentally retarded since his mental retardation had
already been considered as a mitigating factor in his sentencing.
district court and the Sixth Circuit agreed with Bies, but the Supreme
Court reversed. First of all the Court noted, in an opinion by Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that the double jeopardy clause did not apply in
the core constitutional sense. The case did not arise out of the
state's attempt to retry Bies or increase his punishment, but was
instead an attempt at postconviction relief by Bies himself.
Court then addressed Bies' issue preclusion argument, and found it
wanting. The Court determined that the mental retardation issue was
not a necessary compent of the judgment handed down since, according to
the precedent in effect at the time of sentencing, no one mitigating or
aggravating factor was essential to the balancing test performed by the
Moreover, Ginsburg wrote, even if the issue preclusion
requirements had been met, the decision in Atkins would have justified
an exception to the rule.
Bies is entitled to pursue his case,
the Court concluded, but the task of determining whether or not he
satisfied the requirements for a mental retardation determination falls
to the state courts and the application of the Atkins-Lott framework.