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Competency for Execution Do-Over

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Last November 6, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Eleventh Circuit's grant of relief to Alabama murderer Vernon Madison on federal habeas corpus.  Now the case is back on the Supreme Court's direct review of the state court decision, a horse of a different color.  From last November's decision:

More than 30 years ago, Vernon Madison crept up behind police officer Julius Schulte and shot him twice in the head at close range. An Alabama jury found Madison guilty of capital murder. The trial court sentenced him to death. See Ex parte Madison, 718 So. 2d 104, 105-106 (1998).

In 2016, as Madison's execution neared, he petitioned the trial court for a suspension of his death sentence. He argued that, due to several recent strokes, he has become incompetent to be executed. The court held a hearing to receive testimony from two psychologists who had examined Madison and prepared reports concerning his competence. The court's appointed psychologist, Dr. Karl Kirkland, reported that, although Madison may have "suffered a significant decline post-stroke, . . . [he] understands the exact posture of his case at this point," and appears to have a "rational understanding of . . . the results or effects" of his death sentence. App. to Pet. for Cert. 75a (internal quotation marks omitted); Madison v. Commissioner, Ala. Dept. of Corrections, 851 F. 3d 1173, 1193 (CA11 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). Asked at the hearing whether Madison understands that Alabama is seeking retribution against him for his criminal act, Dr. Kirkland answered, "Certainly." Id., at 1180 (internal quotation marks omitted).
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The state court did not unreasonably apply Panetti and Ford when it determined that Madison is competent to be executed because--notwithstanding his memory loss--he recognizes that he will be put to death as punishment for the murder he was found to have committed.

Nor was the state court's decision founded on an unreasonable assessment of the evidence before it. Testimony from each of the psychologists who examined Madison supported the court's finding that Madison understands both that he was tried and imprisoned for murder and that Alabama will put him to death as punishment for that crime.

In short, the state court's determinations of law and fact were not "so lacking in justification" as to give rise to error"beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Richter, supra, at 103. Under that deferential standard, Madison's claim to federal habeas relief must fail. We express no view on the merits of the underlying question outside of the AEDPA context.

Note that last sentence.  To further drive the point home, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, had this concurrence (in its entirety):

The issue whether a State may administer the death penalty to a person whose disability leaves him without memory of his commission of a capital offense is a substantial question not yet addressed by the Court. Appropriately presented, the issue would warrant full airing.But in this case, the restraints imposed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, I agree, preclude consideration of the question. With that understanding, I join the Court's per curiam disposition of this case.
Of all federal courts, the Supreme Court alone has appellate jurisdiction over state courts.  Lower federal courts can hear habeas corpus petitions, but Congress in 1996 limited those petitions to a decision of whether the state court decision was reasonable, in part because federal courts making untethered decisions on the merits so often got them wrong.

So now the case is back without the "reasonableness" limitation.  The case is Madison v. Alabama, No. 17-7505.

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