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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2015)
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`Per Curiam
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
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` RANDY WHITE, WARDEN v. ROGER L. WHEELER
`ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED
`
`
`STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
`
`No. 14–1372. Decided December 14, 2015
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`PER CURIAM.
`
`A death sentence imposed by a Kentucky trial court and
`affirmed by the Kentucky Supreme Court has been over-
`turned, on habeas corpus review, by the Court of Appeals
`for the Sixth Circuit. During the jury selection process,
`the state trial court excused a juror after concluding he
`could not give sufficient assurance of neutrality or impar-
`tiality in considering whether the death penalty should be
`imposed. The Court of Appeals, despite the substantial
`deference it must accord to state-court rulings in federal
`habeas proceedings, determined that excusing the juror in
`the circumstances of this case violated the Sixth and
`Fourteenth Amendments. That ruling contravenes con-
`trolling precedents from this Court, and it is now neces-
`sary to reverse the Court of Appeals by this summary
`
`disposition.
`Warden Randy White is the petitioner here, and the
`convicted prisoner, Roger Wheeler, is the respondent.
`In October 1997, police in Louisville, Kentucky, found
`the bodies of Nigel Malone and Nairobi Warfield in the
`apartment the couple shared. Malone had been stabbed
`
`nine times. Warfield had been strangled to death and a
`pair of scissors stuck out from her neck. She was preg-
`nant. DNA taken from blood at the crime scene matched
`respondent’s. Respondent was charged with the murders.
`During voir dire, Juror 638 gave equivocal and incon-
`
`sistent answers when questioned about whether he could
`consider voting to impose the death penalty. In response
`to the judge’s questions about his personal beliefs on the
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` WHITE v. WHEELER
`
`
`Per Curiam
`death penalty, Juror 638 said, “I’m not sure that I have
`formed an opinion one way or the other. I believe there
`are arguments on both sides of the—of it.” App. to Pet. for
`Cert. 126a. When asked by the prosecution about his
`ability to consider all available penalties, Juror 638 noted
`he had “never been confronted with that situation in a, in
`a real-life sense of having to make that kind of determina-
`tion.” Id., at 131a. “So it’s difficult for me,” he explained,
`
`“to judge how I would I guess act, uh.” Ibid. The prosecu-
`tion sought to clarify Juror 638’s answer, asking if the
`juror meant he was “not absolutely certain whether [he]
`could realistically consider” the death penalty.
`Id., at
`132a. Juror 638 replied, “I think that would be the most
`accurate way I could answer your question.” Ibid. During
`defense counsel’s examination, Juror 638 described him-
`self as “a bit more contemplative on the issue of taking a
`life and, uh, whether or not we have the right to take that
`life.” Id., at 133a. Later, however, he expressed his belief
`
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`that he could consider all the penalty options. Id., at 134a.
`
`The prosecution moved to strike Juror 638 for cause
`
`based on his inconsistent replies, as illustrated by his
`statement that he was not absolutely certain he could
`realistically consider the death penalty. The defense
`
`opposed the motion, arguing that Juror 638’s answers
`indicated his ability to consider all the penalty options,
`despite having some reservations about the death penalty.
`The judge said that when she was done questioning Juror
`638, she wrote in her notes that the juror “‘could consider
`[the] entire range’” of penalties. Id., at 138a. She further
`
`stated that she did not “see him as problematic” at the end
`of her examination. Ibid. But she also noted that she did
`not “hear him say that he couldn’t realistically consider
`the death penalty,” and reserved ruling on the motion
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`until she could review Juror 638’s testimony. Ibid. The
`
`next day, after reviewing the relevant testimony, the judge
`struck Juror 638 for cause. When she announced her
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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2015)
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`Per Curiam
`decision to excuse the juror, the trial judge stated, “And
`when I went back and reviewed [the juror’s] entire testi-
`mony, [the prosecution] concluded with saying, ‘Would it
`be accurate to say that you couldn’t, couldn’t consider the
`entire range?’ And his response is—I think was, ‘I think
`that would be pretty accurate.’ So, I’m going to sustain
`
`that one, too.” Id., at 139a–140a.
`The case proceeded to trial. Respondent was convicted
`
`of both murders and sentenced to death. The Kentucky
`Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and the sentence.
`
`Wheeler v. Commonwealth, 121 S. W. 3d 173, 189 (2003).
`
`In considering respondent’s challenges to the trial court’s
`excusal of certain jurors for cause, the Kentucky Supreme
`
`Court held that the trial judge “appropriately struck for
`cause those jurors that could not impose the death pen-
`alty. . . . There was no error and the rights of the defendant
`to a fair trial by a fair and impartial jury . . . under both
`the federal and state constitutions were not violated.” Id.,
`
`at 179.
`After exhausting available state postconviction proce-
`
`dures, respondent sought a writ of habeas corpus under 28
`U. S. C. §2254 from the United States District Court for
`the Western District of Kentucky. He asserted, inter alia,
`that the Kentucky trial court erred in striking Juror 638
`
`during voir dire on the ground that the juror could not
`give assurances that he could consider the death penalty
`as a sentencing option. The District Court dismissed the
`petition; but a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for
`
`the Sixth Circuit reversed, granting habeas relief as to
`respondent’s sentence. Wheeler v. Simpson, 779 F. 3d 366,
`379 (2015). While acknowledging the deferential standard
`required on federal habeas review of a state conviction, the
`Court of Appeals held that allowing the exclusion of Juror
`638 was an unreasonable application of Witherspoon v.
`Illinois, 391 U. S. 510 (1968), Wainwright v. Witt, 469
`U. S. 412 (1985), and their progeny. 779 F. 3d, at 372–
`
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` WHITE v. WHEELER
`
`
`Per Curiam
`
`374.
`
`Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
`Act of 1996 (AEDPA), habeas relief is authorized if the
`state court’s decision “was contrary to, or 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). This Court, time and
`again, has instructed that AEDPA, by setting forth neces-
`sary predicates before state-court judgments may be set
`aside, “erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief
`
`for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state
`court.” Burt v. Titlow, 571 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op.,
`at 6). Under §2254(d)(1), “ ‘a state prisoner must show
`that the state court’s ruling on the claim being presented
`in federal court was so lacking in justification that there
`was an error well understood and comprehended in exist-
`ing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagree-
`ment.’” White v. Woodall, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip
`op., at 4) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U. S. 86, 103
`(2011)).
`
`The Court of Appeals was required to apply this defer-
`ential standard to the state court’s analysis of respond-
`ent’s juror exclusion claim. In Witherspoon, this Court set
`forth the rule for juror disqualification in capital cases.
`
`Witherspoon recognized that the Sixth Amendment’s
`guarantee of an impartial jury confers on capital defend-
`ants the right to a jury not “uncommonly willing to con-
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`demn a man to die.” 391 U. S., at 521. But the Court with
`equal clarity has acknowledged the State’s “strong interest
`in having jurors who are able to apply capital punishment
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`within the framework state law prescribes.” Uttecht v.
`Brown, 551 U. S. 1, 9 (2007). To ensure the proper bal-
`ance between these two interests, only “a juror who is
`substantially impaired in his or her ability to impose the
`death penalty under the state-law framework can be
`excused for cause.” Ibid. As the Court explained in Witt, a
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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`
`Per Curiam
` juror may be excused for cause “where the trial judge is
`
`left with the definite impression that a prospective juror
`would be unable to faithfully and impartially apply the
`law.” 469 U. S., at 425–426.
`Reviewing courts owe deference to a trial court’s ruling
`
`on whether to strike a particular juror “regardless of
`whether the trial court engages in explicit analysis regard-
`ing substantial impairment; even the granting of a motion
`to excuse for cause constitutes an implicit finding of bias.”
`Uttecht, 551 U. S., at 7. A trial court’s “finding may be
`
`upheld even in the absence of clear statements from the
`juror that he or she is impaired . . . .” Ibid. And where, as
`
`here, the federal courts review a state-court ruling under
`the constraints imposed by AEDPA, the federal court must
`accord an additional and “independent, high standard” of
`deference. Id., at 10. As a result, federal habeas review
`
`of a Witherspoon-Witt claim—much like federal habeas
`
`review of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim—must
`
`be “‘“doubly deferential.”’” Burt, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 1)
`(quoting Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U. S. 170, 190 (2011)).
`
`
`The Court of Appeals held that the Kentucky Supreme
`Court unreasonably applied Witherspoon, Witt, and their
`
`progeny when it determined that removing Juror 638 for
`
`cause was constitutional. 779 F. 3d, at 372–374. The
`Court of Appeals determined Juror 638 “understood the
`decisions he would face and engaged with them in a
`thoughtful, honest, and conscientious manner.”
`Id., at
`373. In the Court of Appeals’ estimation, the trial judge
`concluded the juror was not qualified only by “misappre-
`hending a single question and answer exchange” between
`Juror 638 and the prosecution, id., at 374—the exchange
`in which Juror 638 stated he was not absolutely certain he
`could realistically consider the death penalty, id., at 372.
`According to the Court of Appeals, Juror 638 “agreed he
`
`did not know to an absolute certainty whether he could
`realistically consider the death penalty, but the court
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` WHITE v. WHEELER
`
`
`Per Curiam
`proceeded as if he knew he could not.” Ibid. The Court of
`
`Appeals further determined that if the trial judge, when
`reviewing Juror 638’s examination, had “properly pro-
`cessed that exchange” between Juror 638 and the prosecu-
`
`tion, Juror 638 would not have been excused. Id., at 374.
`
`Both the analysis and the conclusion in the decision
`under review were incorrect. While the Court of Appeals
`acknowledged that deference was required under AEDPA,
`it failed to ask the critical question: Was the Kentucky
`Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the excusal of Juror
`638 for cause “‘so lacking in justification that there was an
`error well understood and comprehended in existing law
`
`beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement’ ”?
`Woodall, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 4) (quoting Harrington,
`supra, at 103).
`
`The Court of Appeals did not properly apply the defer-
`ence it was required to accord the state-court ruling. A
`fairminded jurist could readily conclude that the trial
`judge’s exchange with Juror 638 reflected a “diligent and
`thoughtful voir dire”; that she considered with care the
`juror’s testimony; and that she was fair in the exercise of
`her “broad discretion” in determining whether the juror
`
`was qualified to serve in this capital case. Uttecht, 551
`U. S., at 20. Juror 638’s answers during voir dire were at
`least ambiguous as to whether he would be able to give
`appropriate consideration to imposing the death penalty.
`And as this Court made clear in Uttecht, “when there is
`
`ambiguity in the prospective juror’s statements,” the trial
`court is “‘entitled to resolve it in favor of the State.’” Id.,
`at 7 (quoting Witt, supra, at 434).
`
`The Court of Appeals erred in its assessment of the trial
`judge’s reformulation of an important part of Juror 638’s
`questioning. 779 F. 3d, at 372. When excusing the juror
`the day after the voir dire, the trial judge said that the
`prosecution had asked whether the juror “couldn’t con-
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`sider the entire range” of penalties. App. to Pet. for Cert.
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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2015)
`
`
`Per Curiam
`
` 139a. The prosecution in fact asked if the juror was “not
`
`
` absolutely certain whether [he] could realistically con-
` sider” the entire range of penalties. Id., at 132a. The juror’s
`
`
`
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`confirmation that he was “not absolutely certain whether
`[he] could realistically consider” the death penalty, ibid.,
`was a reasonable basis for the trial judge to conclude that
`
`the juror was unable to give that penalty fair considera-
`tion. The trial judge’s decision to excuse Juror 638 did not
`violate clearly established federal law by concluding that
`
`Juror 638 was not qualified to serve as a member of
`this capital jury. See Witt, supra, at 424–426. And simi-
`larly, the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling that there
`was no error is not beyond any possibility for fairminded
`
`disagreement.
`The Court of Appeals noted that the deference toward
`
`trial courts recognized in Uttecht “was largely premised on
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`the trial judge’s ability to ‘observe the demeanor of ’” the
`juror. 779 F. 3d, at 373 (quoting 551 U. S., at 17). It
`concluded that deference to the trial court here supported
`habeas relief, because the trial judge’s “initial assessment
`
`of [the juror’s] answers and demeanor” did not lead her to
`immediately strike Juror 638 for cause. 779 F. 3d, at 373–
`374.
`The Court of Appeals’ conclusion conflicts with the
`
`meaning and holding of Uttecht and with a common-sense
`understanding of the jury selection process. Nothing in
`Uttecht limits the trial court to evaluating demeanor alone
`and not the substance of a juror’s response. And the im-
`plicit suggestion that a trial judge is entitled to less defer-
`
`ence for having deliberated after her initial ruling is
`wrong. In the ordinary case the conclusion should be quite
`the opposite. It is true that a trial court’s contemporane-
`ous assessment of a juror’s demeanor, and its bearing on
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`how to interpret or understand the juror’s responses, are
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`entitled to substantial deference; but a trial court ruling is
`likewise entitled to deference when made after a careful
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` WHITE v. WHEELER
`
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`Per Curiam
`review of a formal transcript or recording. If the trial
`judge chooses to reflect and deliberate further, as this trial
`judge did after the proceedings recessed for the day, that
`is not to be faulted; it is to be commended.
`This is not a case where “the record discloses no basis
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`for a finding of substantial impairment.” Uttecht, supra,
`at 20. The two federal judges in the majority below might
`
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`have reached a different conclusion had they been presid-
`ing over this voir dire. But simple disagreement does not
`overcome the two layers of deference owed by a federal
`habeas court in this context.
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`*
`*
`*
`The Kentucky Supreme Court was not unreasonable in
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`its application of clearly established federal law when it
`concluded that the exclusion of Juror 638 did not violate
`the Sixth Amendment. Given this conclusion, there is no
`need to consider petitioner’s further contention that, if
`there were an error by the trial court in excluding the
`juror, it should be subject to harmless-error analysis. And
`this Court does not review the other rulings of the Court of
`Appeals that are not addressed in this opinion.
`
`As a final matter, this Court again advises the Court of
`
`Appeals that the provisions of AEDPA apply with full
`force even when reviewing a conviction and sentence
`imposing the death penalty. See, e.g., Parker v. Matthews,
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`567 U. S. ___ (2012) (per curiam); Bobby v. Dixon, 565
`U. S. ___ (2011) (per curiam); Bobby v. Mitts, 563 U. S. 395
`(2011) (per curiam); Bobby v. Van Hook, 558 U. S. 4 (2009)
`(per curiam).
`The petition for certiorari and respondent’s motion to
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`proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment of
`the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed, and
`the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent
`with this opinion.
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`It is so ordered.

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