SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
NEVADA, et al., PETITIONERS v.
CALVIN O’NEIL JACKSON
on petition for writ of certiorari to the
united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
No. 12–694. Decided June 3,
In this case, the Court of Appeals held that
respondent, who was convicted of rape and other serious crimes, is
en- titled to relief under the federal habeas statute because the
Supreme Court of Nevada unreasonably applied clearly established
Supreme Court precedent regarding a crim- inal defendant’s
constitutional right to present a defense. At his trial, respondent
unsuccessfully sought to introduce evidence for the purpose of
showing that the rape victim previously reported that he had
assaulted her but that the police had been unable to substantiate
those allegations. The state supreme court held that this evidence
was properly excluded, and no prior decision of this Court clearly
establishes that the exclusion of this evidence violated
respondent’s federal constitutional rights. The decision of
the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed.
Respondent Calvin Jackson had a tumultuous
decade-long romantic relationship with Annette Heathmon. In 1998,
after several previous attempts to end the relationship, Heathmon
relocated to a new apartment in North Las Vegas without telling
respondent where she was mov- ing. Respondent learned of
Heathmon’s whereabouts, and on the night of October 21, 1998,
he visited her apartment. What happened next was the focus of
Heathmon told police and later testified that
respondent forced his way into her apartment and threatened to kill
her with a screwdriver if she did not have sex with him. After
raping Heathmon, respondent hit her, stole a ring from her bedroom,
and dragged her out of the apartment and toward his car by the neck
and hair. A witness confronted the couple, and respondent fled.
Police observed injuries to Heathmon’s neck and scalp that
were consis-tent with her account of events, and respondent was
Although respondent did not testify at trial, he
discussed Heathmon’s allegations with police shortly after
his arrest, and his statements were admitted into evidence at
trial. Respondent acknowledged that Heathmon might have agreed to
have sex because the two were alone and “she was scared that
[he] might do something,” Tr. 305, but he claimed that the
sex was consensual. Respondent also admitted striking Heathmon
inside the apartment but denied pulling her outside by the neck and
Shortly before trial, Heathmon sent the judge a
letter recanting her prior accusations and stating that she would
not testify. She went into hiding, but police eventually found her
and took her into custody as a material wit- ness. Once in custody,
Heathmon disavowed the letter and agreed to testify. When asked
about the letter at trial, she stated that three of
respondent’s associates had forced her to write it and had
threatened to hurt her if she appeared in court.
At trial, the theory of the defense was that
Heathmon had fabricated the sexual assault and had reported it to
police in an effort to control respondent. To support that theory,
the defense sought to introduce testimony and police reports
showing that Heathmon had called the police on several prior
occasions claiming that respondent had raped or otherwise assaulted
her. Police were unable to corroborate many of these prior
allegations, and in several cases they were skeptical of her
claims. Although the trial court gave the defense wide latitude to
cross-examine Heathmon about those prior incidents, it refused to
admit the police reports or to allow the defense to call as
witnesses the officers involved. The jury found respondent guilty,
and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Respondent appealed his conviction to the Nevada
Su- preme Court, arguing, among other things, that the trial
court’s refusal to admit extrinsic evidence relating to the
prior incidents violated his federal constitutional right to
present a complete defense, but the Nevada Supreme Court rejected
After exhausting his remedies in state court,
respondent filed a federal habeas petition, again arguing that the
trial court’s ruling had violated his right to present a
defense. Applying AEDPA’s deferential standard of review, the
District Court denied relief, but a divided panel of the Ninth
Circuit reversed. 688 F.3d 1091 (2012). The majority held that
extrinsic evidence of Heathmon’s prior allegations was
critical to respondent’s defense, that the exclusion of that
evidence violated respondent’s constitutional right to
present a defense, and that the Nevada Supreme Court’s
decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of this
Court’s precedents. Id.,
at 1097–1101. Although
it acknowledged that the state court had ruled that the evidence
was inadmissible as a matter of state law, the Ninth Circuit
concluded that the impact of the State’s rules of evidence on
the defense “was disproportionate to the state’s
interest in . . . exclusion.” Id.
1101–1104. Finding that the trial court’s erroneous
evidentiary ruling was not harmless, id.,
1104–1106, the Ninth Circuit ordered the State either to
retry or to release respondent.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act of 1996 (AEDPA) authorizes a federal habeas court to grant
relief to a prisoner whose state court conviction “involved
an unreasonable application of . . . clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States.” 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). It is
settled that a federal habeas court may overturn a state
court’s application of federal law only if it is so erroneous
that “there is no possibility fairminded jurists could
disagree that the state court’s decision conflicts with this
Court’s precedents.” Harrington
, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 13).
Applying that deferential standard, we conclude that the Nevada
Supreme Court’s decision was reasonable.
“[T]he Constitution guarantees criminal
defendants ‘a meaningful opportunity to present a complete
defense,’ ” Crane
, 690 (1986) (quoting California
, 485 (1984)), but we have also recognized that
“ ‘state and federal rulemakers have broad
latitude under the Constitution to establish rules excluding
evidence from criminal trials,’ ” Holmes
, 547 U.S.
, 324 (2006) (quoting United States
, 523 U.S.
, 308 (1998)). Only rarely have we held that the right to
present a complete defense was violated by the exclusion of defense
evidence under a state rule of evidence. See 547 U. S., at 331
(rule did not rationally serve any discernible purpose);
, 483 U.S.
, 61 (1987) (rule arbitrary); Chambers
, 410 U.S.
, 302–303 (1973) (State did not even attempt to
explain the reason for its rule); Washington
, 388 U.S.
, 22 (1967) (rule could not be rationally defended).
As the Ninth Circuit conceded, “[t]he
Nevada Supreme Court recognized and applied the correct legal
principle.” 688 F. 3d, at 1097. But contrary to the
Ninth Circuit’s conclusion, the State Supreme Court’s
application of our clearly established precedents was reasonable.
The starting point in the state court’s analysis was a state
statute that generally precludes the admission of extrinsic
evidence of “[s]pecific instances of the conduct of a
witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the
witness’ credibility, other than conviction of crime.”
App. to Pet. for Cert. 66; see Nev. Rev. Stat. §50.085(3)
(2011). The purpose of that rule, the Nevada Supreme Court has
explained, “is to focus the fact-finder on the most impor-
tant facts and conserve ‘judicial resources by avoiding
mini-trials on collateral issues.’ ” Abbott
, 122 Nev. 715, 736, 138 P.3d 462, 476 (2006)
140 S.W.3d 27
, 30 (Mo. 2004)). These are “good
reason[s]” for limiting the use of extrinsic evidence,
, 548 U.S.
, 770 (2006), and the Nevada statute is akin to the widely
accepted rule of evidence law that generally precludes the
admission of evidence of specific instances of a witness’
conduct to prove the witness’ character for untruthfulness.
See Fed. Rule Evid. 608(b); C. Mueller & L. Kirkpatrick,
Evidence §6.27, pp. 497–499 (4th ed. 2009). The
constitutional propriety of this rule cannot be seriously
As an exception to the prohibition contained in
Nev. Rev. Stat. §50.085(3), the Nevada Supreme Court held in
, 105 Nev. 497, 499–500,
779 P.2d 87
, 88–89 (1989), that “in a sexual
assault case defense counsel may cross-examine a complaining
witness about previous fab- ricated sexual assault accusations and,
if the witness denies making the allegations, may introduce
extrinsic evidence to prove that fabricated charges were made by
that witness in the past.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 66. But in
order to introduce evidence showing that the witness previously
made false allegations, the defendant must file written notice, and
the trial court must hold a hearing. Miller
at 501, 779 P. 2d, at 90. Respondent did not file the
requisite notice, and the State Supreme Court upheld the exclusion
of evidence of prior sexual assault complaints on this basis.
No decision of this Court clearly establishes
that this notice requirement is unconstitutional. Nor, contrary to
the reasoning of the Ninth Circuit majority, see 688 F. 3d,
at 1103–1104, do our cases clearly establish that the
Constitution requires a case-by-case balancing of interests before
such a rule can be enforced. The decision on which the Ninth
Circuit relied, Michigan
, 500 U.S.
(1991), is very far afield. In that case, we reversed a
decision holding that the Sixth Amendment categorically prohibits
the enforcement of a rule that required a rape defendant to provide
pretrial notice if he wished to introduce evidence of his prior
sexual relationship with the complaining witness. The Court did not
even suggest, much less hold, that it is unconstitutional to
enforce such a rule unless a case-by-case balancing of interests
weighs in favor of enforcement. Instead, the Court
“express[ed] no opinion as to whether or not preclusion was
justified in th[at] case” and left it for the state courts to
address that question in the first instance. Id
., at 153. No
fair-minded jurist could think that Lucas
establishes that the enforcement of the Nevada rule in this case is
inconsistent with the Constitution.
Some of the evidence that respondent sought to
in- troduce concerned prior incidents in which the victim re-
ported that respondent beat her up but did not sexually assault
her, and the state supreme court did not view its Miller
decision as applying in such circumstances. But the state court did
not simply invoke the rule set out in Nev. Rev. Stat.
§50.085(3). Rather, the court reasoned that the proffered
evidence had little impeachment value because at most it showed
simply that the victim’s reports could not be corroborated.
The admission of extrinsic evidence of specific instances of a
witness’ conduct to impeach the witness’ credibility
may confuse the jury, unfairly embarrass the victim, surprise the
prosecution, and unduly prolong the trial. No decision of this
Court clearly establishes that the exclusion of such evidence for
such reasons in a particular case violates the Constitution.
In holding that respondent is entitled to habeas
relief, the Ninth Circuit pointed to two of its own AEDPA decisions
in which it granted habeas relief to state prisoners who were not
allowed to conduct a full cross-examination of the witnesses
against them. 688 F. 3d, at 1098–1101 (discussing
v. Sacramento Cty. Sheriff’s
421 F.3d 1027
, 1035–1038 (CA9 2005) and Holley
, 568 F.3d 1091, 1098–1101 (CA9 2009)).
Those cases in turn relied on Supreme Court decisions holding that
various restrictions on a defendant’s ability to
witnesses violate the Confrontation Clause of
the Sixth Amendment. See, e.g., Olden
, 488 U.S.
, 231 (1988) (per curiam
, 475 U.S.
, 678–679 (1986); Davis
, 315–316 (1974). But this Court has never held that
the Confrontation Clause entitles a criminal defendant to introduce
for impeachment purposes. See
, 474 U.S.
, 22 (1985) (per curiam
) (observing that
“the Confrontation Clause is generally satisfied when the
defense is given a full and fair opportunity to . . .
expose [testimonial] infirmities through cross-examination”).
See also Jordan
, 675 F.3d 586, 596 (CA6
, 630 F.3d 62, 70 (CA1
The Ninth Circuit elided the distinction between
cross-examination and extrinsic evidence by characterizing the
cases as recognizing a broad right to present “evidence
bearing on [a witness’] credibility.” 688 F. 3d,
at 1099. By framing our precedents at such a high level of
generality, a lower federal court could transform even the most
imaginative extension of existing case law into “clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.”
28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). In thus collapsing the
distinction between “an unreasonable
federal law” and what a lower court believes to be “an
application of federal
, 529 U.S.
, 412 (2000), the Ninth Circuit’s approach would
defeat the substantial deference that AEDPA requires.
The petition for a writ of certiorari and
respondent’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis
granted. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.