498 U.S. 887 (1990)

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U.S. Supreme Court

HUNTER v. CALIFORNIA , 498 U.S. 887 (1990)

498 U.S. 887

Michael Wayne HUNTER, petitioner
CALIFORNIA. No. 89-7671.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 1, 1990

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

This petition for certiorari presents the significant issue whether, and under what circumstances, a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to judicially immunized testimony useful to establishing his defense . I have previously expressed my view that this Court should resolve the conflict of lower court authority on this question. See Autry v. McKaskle, 465 U.S. 1085, 1087-1088, and n. 3, 1460-1461, and n. 3 (1984) (opinion dissenting from denial of certiorari). This petition underscores the importance of settling that conflict because it frames the issue in the most compelling possible setting: the penalty phase of a capital proceeding.

Page 498 U.S. 887 , 888

Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At trial, petitioner requested the court to confer use immunity upon his girl friend, who declined on Fifth Amendment grounds to testify on petitioner's behalf. Petitioner proffered at both the guilt and the penalty phases that his girl friend's testimony would show that petitioner was mentally distressed at the time of the charged murder. The trial court refused to grant immunity, and the California Supreme Court affirmed its ruling.

The manner in which the California Supreme Court disposed of petitioner's claim highlights the confusion engendered by this Court's failure to resolve definitively the judicial immunity issue. Noting the conflict among the lower courts, the California Supreme Court sought to avoid the question of a criminal defendant's constitutional right to judicially immunized testimony by ruling that petitioner had failed to meet the threshold showing established by Government of Virgin Islands v. Smith, 615 F.2d 964, 972 (CA3 1980), the first decision to recognize such a right. "[T]he proffered testimony," the court explained,

    "did not meet Smith's requirement that the evidence be 'clearly exculpatory and essential.' At best, the evidence was cumulative of the extensive testimony of other defense witnesses." 49 Cal.3d 957, 974, 264 Cal.Rptr. 367, 376, 782 P.2d 608, 617 (1989).

The court dismissed in similar terms petitioner's claim that he was entitled to have his girl friend's immunized testimony as mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of the capital trial:

"Even assuming, without purporting to decide, that the trial court had the authority to confer use immunity on the proposed witness, we cannot conclude on this record that the court erred. There is nothing in the record to demonstrate [petitioner] was denied highly relevant mitigating evidence, or to reveal the nature of that evidence. Even assuming that the evidence would have generally related to [petitioner's] state of mind on the morning of the murder, we cannot find that the absence of [the girl friend's] testimony prejudiced [petitioner]. The jury had already been presented evidence of [petitioner's] purported depression at the guilt phase through the testimony of two psychiatrists." Id., at 980-981, 264 Cal.Rptr., at 380, 782 P.2d, at 621 (emphasis added).

In my view, the question whether petitioner had a right to judicially immunized testimony at the penalty phase of the proceed- [498 U.S. 887 , 889]

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