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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Billy Joe Magwood
Tony Patterson, Warden, et al.
(for the petitioner (appointed by the Court))
(Solicitor General of Alabama, for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

An Alabama state court convicted Billy Joe Magwood of murder and sentenced him to death. Subsequently, an Alabama federal district court partially granted Mr. Magwood's petition for federal habeas corpus relief. The court upheld his conviction but instructed the state court to look at mitigating evidence when resentencing Mr. Magwood. Upon resentencing, the state court sentenced Mr. Magwood to death once again. Mr. Magwood filed a second petition for federal habeas corpus relief with the federal district court arguing that a judicial rule was retroactively applied in his case and that he lacked effective counsel at sentencing. The district court granted the petition and vacated Mr. Magwood's death sentence.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh circuit reversed, holding that prisoners may not raise challenges to an original sentence that could have been raised in an earlier petition. The court also held that Mr. Magwood's counsel was not ineffective because he failed to raise an argument that had already been decided by the state's highest court adverse to his client's position.


When a person is resentenced after having obtained federal habeas corpus relief from an earlier sentence, is a claim in a federal habeas petition challenging the new sentencing judgment a "successive claim," and therefore prohibited, if the petitioner could have challenged his previously imposed sentence on the same constitutional grounds?

Decision: 5 votes for Magwood, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

No. The Supreme Court held that because Mr. Magwood's habeas application challenges new judgments for the first time, it is not "second or successive" under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") With Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority, the Court determined that the text of the AEDPA counseled in favor of the Court's conclusion.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Sonia Sotomayor, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. He noted that the Court was not expanding its holding from Panetti v. Quarterman. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito, dissented. He argued that a straightforward application of Panetti, consistent with all of the courts of appeals to rule on the issue, would have dictated an opposite result from the Court's.

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MAGWOOD v. PATTERSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
MAGWOOD v. PATTERSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"MAGWOOD v. PATTERSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,