Mitchell v. Esparza

Mitchell v. Esparza

Supreme Court of the United States

November 3, 2003, Decided

No. 02-1369


 [*13]   [**9]  Per Curiam.

LEdHN[1A][] [1A] The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of habeas relief to respondent Gregory Esparza after concluding that, because the Eighth Amendment requires the State to narrow the class of death eligible defendants, the Ohio Court of Appeals had improperly subjected respondent's claims to harmless-error review. 310 F.3d 414 (2002). This decision ignores the limits imposed on federal habeas review by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) [28 USCS § 2254(d)], and we therefore grant the petition for certiorari and reverse.

In February 1983, respondent Esparza  [***268]  entered a store in Toledo, Ohio, and approached two employees, Melanie Gerschultz and [****2]  James Barailloux. No one else was in the store. At gunpoint, he ordered Gerschultz to open the cash register. Barailloux meanwhile fled the store through a rear door, entering the attached home of the storeowner, Evelyn Krieger. As Barailloux was alerting Krieger to the robbery, he heard a gunshot. Barailloux and Krieger returned to the store and found Gerschultz lying on the floor, fatally wounded by a single gunshot to her neck. The cash register was open and approximately $110 was missing.

Respondent was charged with aggravated murder during the commission of an aggravated robbery, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2903.01 (Anderson 2002), and aggravated robbery, § 2911.01. He was convicted on both counts, and the trial judge accepted the jury's recommendation that he be sentenced to death for the murder conviction.  The trial judge additionally sentenced respondent to 7 to 25 years' imprisonment for aggravated robbery, plus 3 years for the firearm specification. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the convictions  [*14]  and the sentences. State v. Esparza, 39 Ohio St. 3d 8, 529 N. E. 2d 192 (1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1012, 104 L. Ed. 2d 171, 109 S. Ct. 1657 (1989).

On state postconviction review,  [****3]  respondent argued, for the first time, that he had not been convicted of an offense for which a death sentence could be imposed under Ohio law. Although the indictment charged him with aggravated murder in the course of committing aggravated robbery, it did not charge him as a "principal offender." 1 The Ohio Court of Appeals [**10]  rejected his claim, holding that literal compliance with the statute was not required: "[W]here only one defendant is named in an indictment alleging felony murder, it would be redundant to state that the defendant is being charged as a principal offender. Only where more than one defendant is named need the indictment specify the allegation 'principal offender.'" State v. Esparza, 1992 Ohio App. LEXIS 2724, No. L-90-235, 1992 WL 113827, *9 (May 29, 1992), cause dism'd, 65 Ohio St. 3d 1453, 602 N.E.2d 250 (1992).

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540 U.S. 12 *; 124 S. Ct. 7 **; 157 L. Ed. 2d 263 ***; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 8191 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 3305; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 9574; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1


Notice:   [****1]   

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court rehearing denied by Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 1142, 157 L. Ed. 2d 956, 124 S. Ct. 1124, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 623 (U.S., Jan. 12, 2004)


Esparza v. Mitchell, 310 F.3d 414, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 22955 (6th Cir.) (6th Cir. Ohio, 2002)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

harmless-error, murder, principal offender, indictment, aggravated robbery, aggravated, sentencing, per curiam, clearly established federal law, death sentence, state court, harmless

Criminal Law & Procedure, Murder, Felony Murder, General Overview, Aggravated Murder, Penalties, Jurisdiction, Cognizable Issues, Threshold Requirements, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Trials, Jury Instructions, Evidence, Admissibility, Procedural Matters, Rulings on Evidence, Particular Instructions, Elements of Offense, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, Constitutional Rights, Jury Instructions, Civil Procedure, Harmless & Invited Errors, Harmless Error Rule, Appeals, Review, Harmless Errors