465 U.S. 1109 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WILLIAMS v. FLORIDA , 465 U.S. 1109 (1984)

465 U.S. 1109

Richard Sherman WILLIAMS
No. 83-6048

Supreme Court of the United States

March 19, 1984

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, dissenting:

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976), I would grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence in this case.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of a fellow inmate at the Florida State Prison. After the guilty verdict was rendered by the jury, the trial judge announced that the penalty phase of the trial would begin after a two-hour lunch break. Petitioner's counsel moved for a continuance on the ground that he was "unable and unprepared to proceed." App. to Pet. for

Page 465 U.S. 1109 , 1110

Cert. E-4.1 The trial judge stated that he would take the motion under advisement but that both parties should assume that the penalty phase of the trial would begin after the lunch break.

When the court reconvened, the judge denied petitioner's motion and immediately proceeded with the penalty hearing. Following the hearing, at which no witnesses were presented on petitioner's behalf, the jury recommended that the court impose the death penalty. After reading the results of a pre-sentencing investigation, the judge adopted the jury's recommendation and sentenced petitioner to death.

The Florida Supreme Court, with two Justices dissenting,2 upheld the sentence, rejecting petitioner's claim that the trial court's denial of a continuance constituted an abuse of discretion. Williams v. State, 438 So. 2d 781, 785-786 (1983). The Florida Supreme Court justified its decision by reference to the wide discretion accorded to trial judges in determining whether to grant continuances, defense counsel's awareness that this was a case in which the death penalty would be sought, and defense counsel's failure to offer reasons for his unpreparedness.

The trial court's refusal to grant petitioner a continuance makes a mockery of federal constitutional standards that have been designed to ensure heightened sensitivity to fairness and accuracy [465 U.S. 1109 , 1111]

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