Wainwright v. Goode - 464 U.S. 78 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
Wainwright v. Goode, 464 U.S. 78 (1983)
Wainwright v. Goode
Decided November 28, 1983
464 U.S. 78
Respondent was convicted of murder in a Florida state court, and the trial judge sentenced him to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed. Thereafter, respondent filed a motion in state court to vacate the conviction and sentence, contending that the sentencing judge considered an aggravating circumstance -- future dangerousness -- that is impermissible under Florida law. The motion was denied, and the denial was affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court. Respondent then filed a habeas corpus petition in the Florida Supreme Court, which, in denying the petition, held that the record failed to show that the sentencing judge had relied upon the claimed impermissible factor. Respondent then filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, which, in dismissing the petition, similarly held that the claim that the trial judge improperly considered a nonstatutory aggravating circumstance in imposing sentence was not supported by the record. But the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding from the record that the Florida Supreme Court's finding that the sentencing judge had not relied on respondent's future dangerousness, although entitled to a presumption of correctness under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(8), was "not fairly supported by the record as a whole," and that the execution of respondent would be a "unique, freakish instance" in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
1. Assuming that the issue of whether the sentencing judge had relied on a nonstatutory aggravating circumstance was one of law, it is an issue of state law that was resolved by the Florida Supreme Court. That resolution should have been accepted by the Court of Appeals, since the views of a State's highest court with respect to state law are binding on the federal courts.
2. If, on the other hand, such issue was one of fact, the Court of Appeals failed to give proper weight to the state court's resolution of the issue. The rule under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(8) that a federal court, in ruling on a habeas corpus petition, may not overturn a state court's factual conclusion unless such conclusion is not "fairly supported by the record," applies equally to findings of trial courts and appellate courts. Here, because the Florida Supreme Court's conclusions find fair support
in the record, the Court of Appeals erred in substituting its view of the facts for that of the Florida Supreme Court.
3. Even if the Court of Appeals were correct in concluding that the sentencing judge had relied on a factor unavailable to him under state law, it erred in reversing the District Court's dismissal of respondent's habeas corpus petition. It does not appear that, if the sentencing judge did consider such a factor, the balancing process of comparing aggravating and mitigating circumstances, as prescribed by the Florida statute, was so infected as to render the death sentence constitutionally impermissible. Whatever may have been true of the sentencing judge, there is no claim that, in conducting its independent reweighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Florida Supreme Court considered respondent's future dangerousness. Thus, there is no basis for concluding that the procedures followed by the State produced an arbitrary or freakish sentence forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.
Certiorari granted; 704 F.2d 593, reversed and remanded.