OCTOBER TERM, 2002
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
No. 01-1127. Argued November 5, 2002—Decided March 5, 2003
California charged respondent Andrade with two felony counts of petty theft with a prior conviction after he stole approximately $150 worth of videotapes from two different stores. Under California's three strikes law, any felony can constitute the third strike subjecting a defendant to a prison term of 25 years to life. The jury found Andrade guilty and then found that he had three prior convictions that qualified as serious or violent felonies under the three strikes regime. Because each of his petty theft convictions thus triggered a separate application of the three strikes law, the judge sentenced him to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life. In affirming, the California Court of Appeal rejected his claim that his sentence violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It found the Solem v. Helm, 463 U. S. 277, proportionality analysis questionable in light of Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U. S. 957. It then compared the facts in Andrade's case to those in Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U. S. 263—in which this Court rejected a claim that a life sentence was grossly disproportionate to the felonies that formed the predicate for the sentence, id., at 265—and concluded that Andrade's sentence was not disproportionate. The California Supreme Court denied discretionary review. The Federal District Court denied Andrade's subsequent habeas petition, but the Ninth Circuit granted him a certificate of appealability and reversed. Reviewing the case under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the latter court held that an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law under 28 U. S. C. § 2254(d)(1) occurs when there is clear error; concluded that both Solem and Rummel remain good law and are instructive in applying Harmelin; and found that the California Court of Appeal's disregard for Solem resulted in an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court law and was irreconcilable with Solem, thus constituting clear error.
Held: The Ninth Circuit erred in ruling that the California Court of Appeal's decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, this Court's clearly established law within the meaning of § 2254(d)(1). Pp. 70-77.
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