459 U.S. 1118 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WHITE v. ESTELLE , 459 U.S. 1118 (1983)

459 U.S. 1118

Robert Lee WHITE, petitioner,
W.J. ESTELLE, Jr., Texas Department of Corrections
No. 81-6937

Supreme Court of the United States

January 10, 1983

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

The Court of Appeals held that the appropriate standard to be applied to petitioner's due process claim was whether, "[v]iewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the [finding of competence], . . . any rational trier of fact could conclude that the evidence does not predominate in favor of the appellant's claim of incompetence." While noting that "[t]his is, admittedly, a close case," the appellate court concluded that the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find White competent to stand trial. For the reasons set forth below, I would grant the petition for certiorari in order to determine whether petitioner's constitutional claim should be reconsidered under a less deferential standard that until now has been applicable to such claims on federal habeas review.


On January 12, 1975, petitioner Robert Lee White was indicted in Lubbock County, Tex., on the charge of capital murder. Shortly thereafter, petitioner's competency to stand trial was called into question by his attorneys. On June 28, 1975, the trial court granted defense counsel's motion for a private psychiatric examination and evaluation of the defendant, directing that White be released from jail for testing at the Southwest Center for Psychological and Vocational Testing. On three occasions, the court granted defense counsel's motions for further neurological and psychiatric examinations. On September 3, 1976, the court ordered an examination by a disinterested, qualified expert

Page 459 U.S. 1118 , 1119

to determine White's competence to stand trial. [Footnote 1] The appointed psychiatrist reported that White had been psychotic "for at least seven to eight years."

In January 1977, the court, finding that there was some evidence that White was not competent, impanelled a jury to determine White's competency to stand trial. At the competency hearing, defense counsel called the court-appointed psychiatrist and two psychologists who had also previously examined White. Based upon their diagnostic tests and observations, the experts testified that White was "chronically psychotic," that is, he suffered from schizophrenia of long standing, characterized by hallucinations and an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy . They also testified that petitioner's IQ of 69-75 indicated "borderline mental retardation." The defendant's experts concluded that while he understood the charges against him, White's mental disorders rendered him incompetent to consult with his attorneys. One of the defendant's attorneys gave testimony confirming that White was not able to assist in his defense.

The prosecution called two experts, a neurologist and a radiologist, who testified that they found no evidence of organic brain damage, but expressed no view as to White's competence. The prosecution's remaining witnesses, White's jailer and a deputy sheriff, stated that White behaved like other prisoners and appeared to communicate normally with his attorneys. Based primarily upon the testimony of these lay witnesses and his cross-examination of the defense witnesses, the prosecutor urged that the defendant had misled his examiners into believing that he was mentally disturbed.

The judge instructed the jury that "a person is incompetent to stand trial if he does not have sufficient present ability [459 U.S. 1118 , 1120]

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