Hilton v. Braunskill
Annotate this Case
481 U.S. 770 (1987)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770 (1987)
Hilton v. Braunskill
Argued March 25, 1987
Decided May 26, 1987
481 U.S. 770
Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 23(c) provides that, when a State appeals a federal court decision granting a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner, the habeas petitioner shall be released from custody "unless the court or justice or judge rendering the decision, or the court of appeals or the Supreme Court, or a judge or justice of either court shall otherwise order." Rule 23(d) states that initial orders issued pursuant to Rule 23(c) shall
"govern review in the court of appeals and in the Supreme Court unless for special reasons shown . . . the order shall be modified, or an independent order respecting custody, enlargement or surety shall be made."
Respondent, a prisoner serving a state court sentence, filed a habeas corpus petition in the Federal District Court, which found that his constitutional rights had been violated at his state court trial and ordered that a writ of habeas corpus "shall issue unless within 30 days" the State granted a new trial. The court subsequently denied petitioners' motion to stay its order pending appeal, basing its denial on Third Circuit authority that, under Rules 23(c) and (d), a federal court deciding whether to release a successful habeas petitioner could consider only the risk that the prisoner would not appear for subsequent proceedings, not his danger to the community, and finding that petitioners had failed to show such risk here. The Court of Appeals denied petitioners' motion for a stay of the District Court's order releasing respondent.
Held: In deciding under Rules 23(c) and (d) whether to stay pending appeal a district court order granting relief to a habeas petitioner, federal courts are not restricted to considering only the petitioner's risk of flight. The history of federal habeas corpus practice indicates that a court has broad discretion in conditioning a judgment granting habeas relief, and a court's denial of enlargement to a successful habeas petitioner pending review of the habeas order has the same effect as a stay of that order. Since habeas corpus proceedings are civil in nature, federal courts, in deciding under the Rule whether to release a successful habeas petitioner pending the State's appeal, should be guided by the traditional standards governing stays of civil judgments -- whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits;
whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and where the public interest lies. Although Rule 23(c) creates a presumption favoring release of a successful habeas petitioner pending appeal, and Rule 23(d) creates a presumption of correctness of the District Court's order, such presumptions may be overcome if so indicated by the traditional stay factors, which contemplate individualized judgments in each case. Thus, consideration may be given to such factors as the possibility of the prisoner's flight; the risk that the prisoner will pose a danger to the public if released; the State's interest in continuing custody and rehabilitation pending a final determination on appeal; and the prisoner's substantial interest in release pending appeal. Respondent's contention that matters of "traditional state concern" such as the prisoner's danger to the community should not be considered in determining whether to release the prisoner pending appeal is unpersuasive. Any strain on federal-state relations that arises from federal habeas jurisdiction comes about because of the granting of habeas relief itself, not the existence of habeas courts' discretion to refuse enlargement of a successful habeas petitioner pending appeal. Nor is there any merit to respondent's contention that staying a successful habeas petitioner's release pending appeal because of dangerousness is repugnant to the concept of substantive due process. Pp. 481 U. S. 774-779.
Vacated and remanded.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 780.
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