451 U.S. 454 (1981), 79-1127, Estelle v. Smith

Docket Nº:No. 79-1127
Citation:451 U.S. 454, 101 S.Ct. 1866, 68 L.Ed.2d 359
Party Name:Estelle v. Smith
Case Date:May 18, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court

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451 U.S. 454 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1866, 68 L.Ed.2d 359




No. 79-1127

United States Supreme Court

May 18, 1981

Argued October 8, 1980




After respondent was indicted in Texas for murder, the State announced its intention to seek the death penalty. At an ensuing psychiatric examination, ordered by the trial court to determine respondent's competency to stand trial and conducted in the jail where he was being held, the examining doctor determined that respondent was competent. Thereafter, respondent was tried by a jury and convicted. A separate sentencing proceeding was then held before the same jury, as required by Texas law. At such a proceeding, the jury must resolve three critical issues to determine whether or not the death sentence will be imposed. One of these issues involves the future dangerousness of the defendant, i.e., whether there is a probability that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. At the sentencing hearing, the doctor who had conducted the pretrial psychiatric examination was allowed to testify for the State over defense counsels' objection that his name did not appear on the list of witnesses the State planned to use at either the guilt or penalty stages of the proceedings. His testimony was based on the pretrial examination, and stated in substance that respondent would be a danger to society. The jury then resolved the issue of future dangerousness, as well as the other two issues, against respondent, and thus, under Texas [101 S.Ct. 1869] law, the death penalty was mandatory. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence. After unsuccessfully seeking a writ of habeas corpus in the state courts, respondent petitioned for such relief in Federal District Court. That court vacated the death sentence because it found constitutional error in admitting the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The admission of the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase violated respondent's Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination, because he was not advised before the pretrial psychiatric examination that he had a right to remain silent and that any statement he made could be used against him at a capital sentencing proceeding. Pp. 461-469.

(a) There is no basis for distinguishing between the guilt and penalty

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phases of respondent's trial so far as the protection of the Fifth Amendment privilege is concerned. The State's attempt to establish respondent's future dangerousness by relying on the unwarned statements he made to the examining doctor infringed the Fifth Amendment just as much as would have any effort to compel respondent to testify against his will at the sentencing hearing. Pp. 462-463.

(b) The Fifth Amendment privilege is directly involved here because the State used as evidence against respondent the substance of his disclosures during the pretrial psychiatric examination. The fact that respondent's statements were made in the context of such an examination does not automatically remove them from the reach of that Amendment. Pp. 463-466.

(c) The considerations calling for the accused to be warned prior to custodial interrogation apply with no less force to the pretrial psychiatric examination at issue here. An accused who neither initiates a psychiatric evaluation nor attempts to introduce any psychiatric evidence may not be compelled to respond to a psychiatrist if his statements can be used against him at a capital sentencing proceeding. When faced while in custody with a court-ordered psychiatric inquiry, respondent's statements to the doctor were not "given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influences" and, as such, could be used as the State did at the penalty phase only if respondent had been apprised of his rights and had knowingly decided to waive them. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 478. Since these safeguards of the Fifth Amendment privilege were not afforded respondent, his death sentence cannot stand. Pp. 466-469.

2. Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel also was violated by the State's introduction of the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase. Such right already had attached when the doctor examined respondent in jail, and that interview proved to be a "critical stage" of the aggregate proceedings against respondent. Defense counsel were not notified in advance that the psychiatric examination would encompass the issue of their client's future dangerousness, and respondent was denied the assistance of his counsel in making the significant decision of whether to submit to the examination and to what end the psychiatrist's findings could be employed. Pp. 469-471.

602 F.2d 694, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-C of which MARSHALL, J., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 474. MARSHALL, J., filed a statement concurring in part,

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post, p. 474. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 474. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 474.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider whether the prosecution's use of psychiatric testimony at the sentencing phase of respondent's capital murder trial to establish his future dangerousness violated his constitutional rights. 445 U.S. 926 (1980).



On December 28, 1973, respondent Ernest Benjamin Smith was indicted for murder arising from his participation in the armed robbery of a grocery store during which a clerk was fatally shot, not by Smith, but by his accomplice. In accordance with Art. 1257(b)(2) of the Tex.Penal Code Ann. (Vernon 1974) concerning the punishment for murder with malice aforethought, the State of Texas announced its intention to seek the death penalty. Thereafter, a judge of the 195th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, informally ordered the State's attorney to arrange a psychiatric

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examination of Smith by Dr. James P. Grigson to determine Smith's competency to stand trial.1 See n. 5, infra.

Dr. Grigson, who interviewed Smith in jail for approximately 90 minutes, concluded that he was competent to stand trial. In a letter to the trial judge, Dr. Grigson reported his findings:

[I]t is my opinion that Ernest Benjamin Smith, Jr., is aware of the difference between right and wrong and is able to aid an attorney in his defense.

App. A-6. This letter was filed with the court's papers in the case. Smith was then tried by a jury and convicted of murder.

In Texas, capital cases require bifurcated proceedings -- a guilt phase and a penalty phase.2 If the defendant is found guilty, a separate proceeding before the same jury is held to fix the punishment. At the penalty phase, if the jury affirmatively answers three questions on which the State has the

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burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge must impose the death sentence. See Tex.Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Arts. 37.071(c) and (e) (Vernon Supp. 1980). One of the three critical issues to be resolved by the jury is

whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.

Art. 37.071(b)(2).3 In other words, the jury must assess the defendant's future dangerousness.

At the commencement of Smith's sentencing hearing, the State rested "[s]ubject to the right to reopen." App. A-11. Defense counsel called three lay witnesses: Smith's stepmother, his aunt, and the man who owned the gun Smith carried during the robbery. Smith's relatives testified as to his good reputation and character.4 The owner of the pistol testified as to Smith's [101 S.Ct. 1871] knowledge that it would not fire because of a mechanical defect. The State then called Dr. Grigson as a witness.

Defense counsel were aware from the trial court's file of the case that Dr. Grigson had submitted a psychiatric report in the form of a letter advising the court that Smith was competent to stand trial.5 This report termed Smith "a severe

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sociopath," but it contained no more specific reference to his future dangerousness. Id. at A-6. Before trial, defense counsel had obtained an order requiring the State to disclose the witnesses it planned to use both at the guilt stage and, if known, at the penalty stage. Subsequently, the trial court had granted a defense motion to bar the testimony during the State's case in chief of any witness whose name did not appear on that list. Dr. Grigson's name was not on the witness list, and defense counsel objected when he was called to the stand at the penalty phase.

In a hearing outside the presence of the jury, Dr. Grigson stated: (a) that he had not obtained permission from Smith's attorneys to examine him; (b) that he had discussed his conclusions and diagnosis with the State's attorney; and (c) that the prosecutor had requested him to testify, and had told him, approximately five days before the sentencing hearing began, that his testimony probably would be needed within the week. Id. at A-1A-16. The trial judge denied a defense motion to exclude Dr. Grigson's testimony on the ground that his name was not on the State's list of witnesses. Although no continuance was requested, the court then recessed for one hour following an acknowledgment by defense counsel that an hour was "all right." Id. at...

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