McFarland v. Scott,
512 U.S. 849 (1994)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case





No. 93-6497. Argued March 29, 1994-Decided June 30,1994

Title 21 U. S. C. § 848(q)(4)(B) entitles capital defendants to qualified legal representation in any "post conviction proceeding" under 28 U. S. C. § 2254 or § 2255, sections of the federal habeas corpus statute. Having failed to obtain a modification of his impending execution date in Texas state court, petitioner McFarland commenced this action in the Federal District Court by filing a pro se motion stating that he wished to challenge his conviction and death sentence under § 2254, requesting the appointment of counsel under § 848(q)(4)(B), and seeking a stay of execution to give that counsel time to prepare and file a habeas petition. The court denied the motion, concluding that because no "post conviction proceeding" had been initiated, McFarland was not entitled to counsel and the court lacked jurisdiction to issue a stay. In denying his subsequent stay application, the Court of Appeals noted that § 2251 authorizes a federal judge, before whom a "habeas corpus proceeding is pending," to stay a state action, but held that no federal proceeding was pending because a motion for stay and for appointed counsel was not the equivalent of a habeas petition.

Held: A capital defendant need not file a formal habeas corpus petition in order to invoke his right to counsel under § 848(q)(4)(B) and to establish a federal court's jurisdiction to enter a stay of execution. Pp. 854-859.

(a) The language and purposes of §848(q)(4)(B) and its related provisions establish that the right to qualified appointed counsel adheres before the filing of a formal, legally sufficient habeas petition and includes a right to legal assistance in the preparation of such a petition. Thus, a "post conviction proceeding" within §848(q)(4)(B)'s meaning is commenced by the filing of a death row defendant's motion requesting the appointment of counsel for his federal habeas proceeding. McFarland filed such a motion and was entitled to the appointment of a lawyer. Pp.854-857.

(b) The District Court had jurisdiction to grant McFarland's motion for stay of execution. The language of §§848(q)(4)(B) and 2251 indicates that "post conviction" and "habeas corpus" refer to the same proceeding. Thus, the two statutes must be read in pari materia to pro-



vide that once a capital defendant invokes his right to appointed counsel under §848(q)(4)(B), a proceeding is "pending" under §2251, such that the federal court has jurisdiction to enter a stay in its sound discretion. The Anti- Injunction Act does not bar the exercise of this authority, since § 2251 expressly authorizes a stay of state-court proceedings "for any matter involved in the habeas corpus proceeding." Pp. 857-858.

7 F.3d 47, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 859. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 864.

Mandy Welch argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs was Douglas G. Robinson.

Margaret Portman Griffey, Assistant Attorney General of Texas, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Dan Morales, Attorney General, Jorge Vega, First Assistant Attorney General, Stephani A. Stelmach, Assistant Attorney General, and Drew T. Durham, Deputy Attorney General. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Bar Association by R. William Ide III, Stephen H. Sachs, Michael A. Millemann, and Michael A. Mello; for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Larry W Yackle, Steven R. Shapiro, and Diann Y. Rust-Tierney; and for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association by Jim E. Lavine.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of California et al. by Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General of California, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Deputy Attorney General, and Mark L. Krotoski, Special Assistant Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Jimmy H. Evans of Alabama, Grant Woods of Arizona, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, Charles M. Oberly III of Delaware, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Larry EchoHawk of Idaho, Chris Gorman of Kentucky, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Jeremiah W Nixon of Missouri, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Deborah T. Poritz of New Jersey, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Lee Fisher of Ohio, Susan B. Loving of Oklahoma, Ernest

Full Text of Opinion

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.