466 U.S. 984 (1984)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

PORTER v. MCKASKLE , 466 U.S. 984 (1984)

466 U.S. 984

Henry Martinez PORTER
Dan V. McKASKLE, Acting Director, Texas Department of Corrections.
No. 83-5808.

Supreme Court of the United States

May 14, 1984.

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

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

This case presents a recurring question concerning the standard for determining when a trial judge has a constitutional obligation to order a psychiatric examination to determine a defendant's competency to stand trial. Especially because the correct answer to that question determines whether petitioner lives or dies, I would grant the petition. [Footnote 1] [ Porter v. McKaskle 466 U.S. 984 (1984) ][984-Continued.]

In 1976, petitioner, Henry Martinez Porter, was tried in Texas for the murder of a policeman. He was convicted and sentenced to death. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction on the ground that petitioner's constitutional right to confront witnesses against him had been violated by the introduction into evidence of materials from a file pertaining to petitioner's conduct while on federal parole during 1973 and 1974. Porter v. State, 578 S.W.2d 742 (Tex.Cr.App. 1979). Among those materials were various reports that cast doubt on petitioner's sanity and capacity to understand legal proceedings. For example, the director of a drug abuse treatment center described petitioner's debilitating and apparently incurable heroin addiction. The director went on to cite petitioner's " 'serious mental and emotional handicaps,' " concluding that petitioner's " '[r]ehabilitative rating is very poor.' " Id., at 745. Another report quoted unnamed psychologists to the effect that petitioner had " 'a psychopathic personality' " and had manifested " 'paranoid schizophrenic behavior.' " Id., at 744.

Petitioner was retried before the same judge who had presided over his first trial. After the jury had been selected but before it was empaneled, the prosecutor for the first time discovered a presentence report, prepared in 1959, that described a psychiatric

Page 466 U.S. 984 , 985

episode in petitioner's past. The report revealed that, while incarcerated on a robbery charge, petitioner was sent from a reformatory to a psychiatric hospital, "because he had hallucinations of seeing his father and speaking to him." After being held at the hospital for a month, petitioner escaped.

After receiving this report from the prosecutor, petitioner's counsel informed the trial judge that he was concerned about the bearing of the newly revealed evidence on petitioner's competency to stand trial and requested the judge to order a psychiatric examination of petitioner. Counsel also asked for a ruling that the results of such an examination would be admissible only for the purpose of assessing petitioner's competency, and would be excluded from the penalty phase of the trial. The prosecutor acceded to the request for an exam but objected to the proposed limitation on the admissibility of the results thereof. The trial judge ruled with the prosecutor on this issue, indicating that he would grant the request for a psychiatric exam only if the material disclosed thereby were admitted into the record and could be used by either side for any purpose. In the face of this ruling, defense counsel withdrew his request for a competency exam.

At the conclusion of the second trial, petitioner was once again convicted and sentenced to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, Porter v. State, 623 S.W.2d 374 (Tex.Cr.App.1981), and this Court denied certiorari, 456 U.S. 965 ( 1982).

After exhausting his state remedies, petitioner brought this suit in Federal District Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus on the ground, inter alia, that the trial judge's ruling on his request for a psychiatric examination violated the Due Process Clause. The District Court denied relief without oral argument or an evidentiary hearing. No. C-82-159 (SD Tex., Oct. 28, 1982). The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Porter v. Estelle, 709 F.2d 944 (1983).

As the Court of Appeals acknowledged, if petitioner's competency was questionable, the trial judge erred in refusing to order a psychiatric examination unless its results could be admitted by the prosecution in the penalty phase of the trial. See id., at 951. It is settled that, if evidence available to a trial judge raises a bona fide doubt regarding a defendant's ability to understand and participate in the proceedings against him, the judge has an obligation to order an examination to assess his competency, even if the defendant does not request such an exam. Drope v. Missouri, [466 U.S. 984 , 986]

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.