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BELL, WARDEN v. THOMPSON, 545 U.S. ---

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BELL, WARDEN v. THOMPSON

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

No. 04-514.Argued April 26, 2005--Decided June 27, 2005

After respondent Thompson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Tennessee state courts denied postconviction relief on his claim that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to adequately investigate his mental health. His federal habeas attorneys subsequently retained psychologist Dr. Sultan, whose report and deposition contended that Thompson suffered from serious mental illness at the time of his offense. The District Court dismissed the petition, but apparently Thompson's habeas counsel had failed to include Sultan's deposition and report in the record. Upholding the dismissal, the Sixth Circuit, inter alia, found no ineffective assistance and did not discuss Sultan's report and deposition in detail. That court later denied rehearing, but stayed issuance of its mandate pending disposition of Thompson's certiorari petition. After this Court denied certiorari on December 1, 2003, the Sixth Circuit stayed its mandate again, pending disposition of a petition for rehearing, which this Court denied on January 20, 2004. A copy of that order was filed with the Sixth Circuit on January 23, but the court did not issue its mandate. The State set Thompson's execution date, and state and federal proceedings began on his competency to be executed. Competency proceedings were pending in the Federal District Court on June 23, 2004, when the Sixth Circuit issued an amended opinion in the federal habeas case, vacating the District Court's habeas judgment and remanding the case for an evidentiary hearing on the ineffective-assistance claim. The Sixth Circuit supplemented the record on appeal with Sultan's deposition and explained that its authority to issue an amended opinion five months after this Court denied rehearing was based on its inherent power to reconsider an opinion before issuance of the mandate.

Held: Assuming that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 41 authorizes a stay of a mandate following a denial of certiorari and that a court may stay the mandate without entering an order, the Sixth Circuit's decision to do so here was an abuse of discretion. Pp. 6-19.


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