392 So.2d 1327 (Fla. 1981), 59732, Brown v. Wainwright

Docket Nº:59732.
Citation:392 So.2d 1327
Party Name:Joseph Green BROWN et al., Petitioners, v. Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Respondent.
Case Date:January 15, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of Florida

Page 1327

392 So.2d 1327 (Fla. 1981)

Joseph Green BROWN et al., Petitioners,


Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Respondent.

No. 59732.

Supreme Court of Florida.

January 15, 1981

Page 1328

Samuel S. Jacobson and Albert J. Datz of Datz, Jacobson & Lembcke, Jacksonville, Marvin E. Frankel, New York City, Richard L. Jorandby, Public Defender and Craig S. Barnard, Chief Asst. Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for petitioners.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and George R. Georgieff, Carolyn M. Snurkowski and Raymond L. Marky, Asst. Attys. Gen., Tallahassee, for respondent.


Joseph Green Brown petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus to obtain relief from an allegedly unconstitutional sentence of death. Brown was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, following which his conviction and sentence were affirmed by this Court. Brown v. State, 381 So.2d 690 (Fla. 1980). An application for certiorari is now pending in the United States Supreme Court. Brown v. Florida, No. 80-5708 (U.S. Nov. 17, 1980).

Alleging common issues of law and fact, Brown has joined with one hundred and twenty-two other persons who seek relief from allegedly unconstitutional sentences of death. The dominant theme in the multiple requests for relief is the alleged impropriety of this Court's having considered, in the course of reviewing sentences of death, documents which were not made available to the defendants' counsel. For most of the petitioners, the alleged impropriety was the Court's consideration of undisclosed documents not related to the proceedings in which their sentences were imposed or upheld, but seen in the course of reviewing

Page 1329

death sentences approved or considered for other criminal defendants.

Before reaching the merits of the petitions, we first consider the procedural basis on which the Court has been asked to entertain habeas corpus petitions on a consolidated basis.


The writ of habeas corpus the common law remedy used primarily to deliver from imprisonment those who are illegally confined 1 has long been recognized as an essential vehicle by which fundamental individual liberties are shielded from illegal governmental action. 2 Traditionally, habeas corpus has been characterized by its utility in cutting through the "procedural morass" of institutional red tape so as to secure the release of persons unlawfully detained. 3 It has been recognized, however, that no prisoner has an interest in the illegal restraint of another, since a sentence of imprisonment operates on each individually. 4 A joinder of habeas corpus petitions, therefore, being unique, requires close scrutiny and a compelling justification.

The joinder of criminal defendants in trial proceedings is commonplace. The reasons which support joinder in those situations considerations of judicial economy flowing from the presentation of common issues of law and fact, weighed against the potential prejudice to the defendants sought to be joined 5 provide a useful perspective from which to examine the desirability of deciding jointly the claims presented here.

In multiple habeas corpus petitions, such as those before us, prejudice to the petitioners is obviously of no concern. For one thing, these proceedings do not involve adjudications of guilt, but only the legality of petitioners' confinement as related to this Court's sentence review. 6 For another, petitioners themselves, rather than the prosecuting authority, have sought consolidated consideration.

Considerations of judicial economy, then, are alone relevant here. As to these, economies become attenuated, and the potential benefits less attractive, as the disparity between legal and factual issues increases. 7 Multiple party joinder is a function of the facts and circumstances of each case, with the determination in each necessarily resting within the sound discretion of the court. 8 In the final analysis, a balancing test is employed to take into account the relative advantages and disadvantages attendant to joint consideration of the common and any noncommon claims presented.

Brown and the other petitioners in this proceeding the one hundred and twenty-three inmates on "death row" premise their joint filing for habeas corpus relief on alleged judicial economies which will flow from our considering in one proceeding allegedly common issues of law and fact. Those economies are not readily apparent in considering the several petitions, as the facts relevant to each vary significantly. Petitioners' appendices, and their request for a special master to develop facts further, bear this out. Petitioners' cases are even in different stages of the appellate

Page 1330

process. Joined together are persons whose appeals from sentences of death are pending in this Court and persons whose sentences have already been affirmed by this Court some more than once. The first category of petitioners have filed requests which are obviously premature.

The economies petitioners assert only become manifest if we rule precisely in the manner petitioners have urged a presumptuous view of the merits of the cause. The fact of the matter is that to consider Brown's claim along with each of the others would plainly prove more unwieldly than economical. 9 Unlike In re Baker, 267 So.2d 331 (Fla. 1972), 10 this case does not involve the routine application of a previously adjudicated constitutional issue to numerous persons who are, in reality, similarly situated. The claims for relief in these petitions present for our analysis new and unresolved constitutional issues, some applicable to one group of petitioners and some applicable to others. 11 /p> The joinder here is manifestly designed, at best, to curtail all executions in Florida on legal grounds not yet adjudicated or, at least, to suspend the imposition of any lawful sentence until new legal issues are resolved. The latter objective, of course, has already been achieved. To allow a joinder under these circumstances in future cases would distort habeas corpus beyond recognition and create a pernicious precedent in capital cases. We decline to approve this precedent. There is no justification for joinder in situations such as this.

To avoid absurd technicalities, however, we decline to treat each petition as if it were separately filed and enter a separate order or opinion on each. Rather, our disposition of Brown's petition effectively disposes of all claims for relief of those petitioners who have joined with Brown. In the future, attempts to create a class action habeas corpus proceeding in situations such as this will be rejected summarily.


Turning to the legal issues presented, we perceive that petitioners' several constitutional claims all...

To continue reading