PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held
that respondent Danny Hill, who has been sentenced to death
in Ohio, is entitled to habeas relief under 28 U.S.C.
§2254(d)(1) because the decisions of the Ohio courts
concluding that he is not intellectually disabled were
contrary to Supreme Court precedent that was clearly
established at the time in question. In reaching this
decision, the Court of Appeals relied repeatedly and
extensively on our decision in Moore v. Texas, 581
U.S. ___(2017), which was not handed down until long after
the state-court decisions.
Court of Appeals' reliance on Moore was plainly
improper under §2254(d)(1), and we therefore vacate that
decision and remand so that Hill's claim regarding
intellectual disability can be evaluated based solely on
holdings of this Court that were clearly established at the
September 1985, 12-year old Raymond Fife set out on his
bicycle for a friend's home. When he did not arrive, his
parents launched a search, and that evening his father found
Raymond-naked, beaten, and burned-in a wooded field. Although
alive, he had sustained horrific injuries that we will not
describe. He died two days later.
1986, respondent Danny Hill was convicted for torturing,
raping, and murdering Raymond, and he was sentenced to death.
An intermediate appellate court affirmed his conviction and
sentence, as did the Ohio Supreme Court. We denied
certiorari. Hill v. Ohio, 507 U.S. 1007 (1993).
unsuccessful efforts to obtain postconviction relief in state
and federal court, Hill filed a new petition in the Ohio
courts contending that his death sentence is illegal under
Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), which held
that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of a death
sentence on a defendant who is "mentally retarded."
In 2006, the Ohio trial court denied this claim, App. to Pet.
for Cert. 381a-493a, and in 2008, the Ohio Court of Appeals
affirmed, State v. Hill, 177 Ohio App.3d 171,
2008-Ohio-3509, 894 N.E.2d 108. In 2009, the Ohio Supreme
Court denied review. State v. Hill, 122 Ohio St.3d
1502, 2009-Ohio-4233, 912 N.E.2d 107.
2010, Hill filed a new federal habeas petition under 28
U.S.C. §2254, seeking review of the denial of his
Atkins claim. The District Court denied the
petition, App. to Pet. for Cert. 77a-210a, but the Sixth
Circuit reversed and granted habeas relief under
§2254(d)(1), which applies when a state-court
adjudication "resulted in a decision that was contrary
to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court
of the United States." See Hill v. Anderson,
881 F.3d 483 (2018). The Sixth Circuit found two alleged
deficiencies in the Ohio courts' decisions: First, they
"overemphasized Hill's adaptive strengths"; and
second, they "relied too heavily on adaptive strengths
that Hill exhibited in the controlled environment of his
death-row prison cell." Id., at 492. In
reaching these conclusions, the court relied repeatedly on
our decision in Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. ___. See
881 F.3d, at 486, 487, 488, n. 4, 489, 491, 492, 493, 495,
496, 498, 500. The court acknowledged that
"[o]rdinarily, Supreme Court decisions that post-date a
state court's determination cannot be 'clearly
established law' for the purposes of [the federal habeas
statute]," but the court argued "that
Moore's holding regarding adaptive strengths
[was] merely an application of what was clearly established
by Atkins." Id., at 487.
State filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, contending
that the Sixth Circuit violated §2254(d)(1) because a
fundamental underpinning of its decision was Moore,
a case decided by this Court well after the Ohio
courts' decisions. Against this, Hill echoes the Court of
Appeals' argument that Moore merely spelled out
what was clearly established by Atkins regarding the
assessment of adaptive skills.
federal habeas statute, as amended by the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes
important limitations on the power of federal courts to
overturn the judgments of state courts in criminal cases. The
statute respects the authority and ability of state courts
and their dedication to the protection of constitutional
rights. Thus, under the statutory provision at issue here, 28
U.S.C. §2254(d)(1), habeas relief may be granted only if
the state court's adjudication "resulted in a
decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of," Supreme Court precedent that was
"clearly established" at the time of the
adjudication. E.g., White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415,
419-420 (2014); Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S. 351,
357-358 (2013). This means that a state court's ruling
must be "so lacking in justification that there was an
error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond
any possibility for fairminded disagreement."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). We
therefore consider what was clearly established regarding the
execution of the intellectually disabled in 2008, when the
Ohio Court of Appeals rejected Hill's Atkins
course, Atkins itself was on the books, but
Atkins gave no comprehensive definition of
"mental retardation" for Eighth Amendment
purposes. The opinion of the Court noted that the
definitions of mental retardation adopted by the American
Association on Mental Retardation and the American
Psychiatric Association required both "subaverage
intellectual functioning" and "significant
limitations in adaptive skills such as communication,
self-care, and self-direction that became manifest before age
18." 536 U.S., at 318; see also id., at 308, n.
3 (quoting definitions). The Court also noted that state
statutory definitions of mental retardation at the time
"[were] not identical, but generally conform[ed] to
the[se] clinical definitions." Id., at 317, n.
22. The Court then left "'to the State[s] the task
of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional
restriction'" that the Court adopted. Id.,
at 317 (quoting Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399,
416 (1986) (plurality opinion)).
than a decade later, we expounded on the definition of
intellectual disability in two cases. In Hall v.
Florida,572 U.S. 701 (2014), we considered a rule
restricting Atkins to defendants with "an IQ
test score of 70 or less." 572 U.S., at 704. We held
that this rule violated the Eighth Amendment because it
treated an IQ score higher than 70 as conclusively
disqualifying and thus prevented consideration of other
evidence of intellectual disability, ...