Ford v. Wainwright
477 U.S. 399 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986)

Ford v. Wainwright

No. 85-5542

Argued April 22, 1986

Decided June 26, 1986

477 U.S. 399

Syllabus

In 1974, petitioner was convicted of murder in a Florida state court and sentenced to death. There is no suggestion that he was incompetent at the time of the offense, at trial, or at sentencing. But subsequently he began to manifest changes in behavior, indicating a mental disorder. This led to extensive separate examinations by two psychiatrists at his counsel's request, one of whom concluded that petitioner was not competent to suffer execution. Counsel then invoked a Florida statute governing the determination of a condemned prisoner's competency. Following the statutory procedures, the Governor appointed three psychiatrists, who together interviewed petitioner for 30 minutes in the presence of eight other people, including petitioner's counsel, the State's attorneys, and correctional officials. The Governor's order directed that the attorneys should not participate in the examination in any adversarial manner. Each psychiatrist filed a separate report with the Governor, to whom the statute delegates the final decision. The reports reached conflicting diagnoses, but were in accord on the question of petitioner's competency. Petitioner's counsel then attempted to submit to the Governor other written materials, including the reports of the two psychiatrists who had previously examined petitioner, but the Governor's office refused to inform counsel whether the submission would be considered. The Governor subsequently signed a death warrant without explanation or statement. After unsuccessfully seeking a hearing in state court to determine anew petitioner's competency, his counsel filed a habeas corpus proceeding in Federal District Court, seeking an evidentiary hearing, but the court denied the petition without a hearing, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

752 F.2d 526, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, concluding that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the State from inflicting the death penalty upon a prisoner who is insane. The reasons at common law for not condoning the execution of the insane -- that such an execution has questionable retributive value, presents no example to others, and thus has no deterrence value, and

Page 477 U. S. 400

simply offends humanity -- have no less logical, moral, and practical force at present. Whether the aim is to protect the condemned from fear and pain without comfort of understanding, or to protect the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance, the restriction finds enforcement in the Eighth Amendment. Pp. 477 U. S. 405-410.

JUSTICE MARSHALL, joined by JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded in Parts III, IV, and V, that Florida's statutory procedures for determining a condemned prisoner's sanity provide inadequate assurance of accuracy to satisfy the requirement of Townsend v. Sain,372 U. S. 293, and that, having been denied a factfinding procedure "adequate to afford a full and fair hearing" on the critical issue, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), petitioner is entitled to a de novo evidentiary hearing in the District Court on the question of his competence to be executed. Pp. 477 U. S. 410-418.

(a) No state court has issued any determination to which the presumption of correctness under § 2254(d) could attach, and indeed no state court played any role in the rejection of petitioner's claim of insanity. P. 477 U. S. 410.

(b) The first defect in Florida's procedures is the failure to include the prisoner in the truth-seeking process. Any procedure that precludes the prisoner or his counsel from presenting material relevant to his sanity or bars consideration of that material by the factfinder is necessarily inadequate. A related flaw in the procedures is the denial of any opportunity to challenge or impeach the state-appointed psychiatrists' opinions, thus creating a significant possibility that the ultimate decision made in reliance on those experts will be distorted. And perhaps the most striking defect in the procedures is the placement of the ultimate decision wholly within the Executive Branch. The Governor, who appoints the experts and ultimately decides whether the State will be able to carry out the death sentence, and whose subordinates have been responsible for initiating every stage of the prosecution, cannot be said to have the neutrality that is necessary for reliability in the factfinding proceedings. Pp. 477 U. S. 413-416.

JUSTICE POWELL concluded that the test for whether a prisoner is insane for Eighth Amendment purposes is whether the prisoner is aware of his impending execution and of the reason for it. He further concluded that petitioner's claim falls within this definition, and that, because petitioner's claim was not adjudicated fairly within the meaning of due process or of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), petitioner is entitled to have his claim adjudicated on remand by the District Court. Finally, he concluded that the States could satisfy due process by providing an impartial officer or board that can receive evidence and argument from the prisoner's counsel, including expert psychiatric evidence. Beyond these

Page 477 U. S. 401

requirements, the States retain substantial discretion to create appropriate procedures. Pp. 477 U. S. 419-427.

MARSHALL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III, IV, and V, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 477 U. S. 418. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result in part and dissenting in part, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 427. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 431.

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