451 U.S. 949 (1981), 80-5980, Coleman v. Balkcom

Docket Nº:No. 80-5980
Citation:451 U.S. 949, 101 S.Ct. 2994, 68 L.Ed.2d 334
Party Name:Wayne Carl COLEMAN v. Charles R. BALKCOM, Warden
Case Date:April 27, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 949

451 U.S. 949 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 2994, 68 L.Ed.2d 334

Wayne Carl COLEMAN


 Charles R. BALKCOM, Warden  

No. 80-5980

United States Supreme Court.

April 27, 1981


        See denial of certiorari, April 27, 1981, 451 U.S. 949, 101 S.Ct. 2031.

        April 27, 1981. 

Page 956

[101 S.Ct. 2994] Justice REHNQUIST, dissenting.

        Ordinarily I would have no hesitation joining the majority of my colleagues in denying the petition for certiorari in this case.  The questions presented in the petition are of importance only to petitioner himself and therefore are not suitable candidates for the exercise of our discretionary jurisdiction.  But in a larger sense, the case raises significant issues about the administration of capital punishment statutes in this country, and reflects the increasing tendency to postpone or delay the enforcement of those constitutionally valid statutes.  Because I think stronger measures are called for than the mere denial of certiorari in a case such as this, I would grant the petition for certiorari so that the case can be fully briefed and argued.

        A mere recital of the facts of this case illustrates the delay to which I have referred.  Petitioner was convicted by a jury in 1973 of murdering six members of a family, after raping and torturing some members of that family.  He was sentenced to death under Georgia's capital punishment statute, a statute expressly held constitutional in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976).  The sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Georgia, Coleman v. State, 237 Ga. 84, 226 S.E.2d 911 (1976), and this Court denied the first petition for certiorari.  Coleman v. Georgia, 431 U.S. 909, 97 S.Ct. 1707, 52 L.Ed.2d 394, rehearing denied, 431 U.S. 961, 97 S.Ct. 2690, 53 L.Ed.2d 280 (1977).  Petitioner subsequently

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 sought state collateral relief, which was denied by the state habeas court.  The Georgia Supreme Court then denied his application for a writ of probable cause to appeal.  Petitioner has now filed his second petition for certiorari in this Court.  Because petitioner has had a full opportunity to have his claims considered on direct review by both the Supreme Court of Georgia and this Court and on collateral review by the state courts of Georgia, and because the issues presented are not substantial, it is not surprising that the majority of the Court votes to deny the petition for certiorari.

        I dissent not because I believe that petitioner has made any showing in the Georgia courts that he was deprived of any rights secured to him by the United States Constitution, but rather because our mere denial of certiorari will not in all likelihood end the already protracted litigation in this case.  If petitioner follows the path of many of his predecessors, he will now turn to a single-judge federal habeas court, alleging anew some or all of the reasons which he urges here for granting the petition for certiorari.  If he fails to impress the particular United States District Court in which his habeas petition is filed, he may upon the issuance of a certificate of probable cause appeal to a United States Court of Appeals.  And throughout this exhaustive appeal process, any single judge having jurisdiction over the case may of course stay the execution of the penalty pending further review.  28 U.S.C.§ 1651.  Given so many bites at the apple, the odds favor petitioner finding some court willing to vacate his death sentence because in its view his trial or sentence was not free from constitutional error.  See Estelle v. Jurek, 450 U.S. 1014, 101 S.Ct. 1724, 68 L.Ed.2d 214 (1981) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).

        It seems to me that we have thus reached a stalemate in the administration of federal [101 S.Ct. 2995] constitutional law.  Although this Court has determined that capital punishment statutes do not violate the Constitution, Gregg v. Georgia, supra, and although 30-odd States have enacted such statutes, apparently in the belief that they constitute sound social policy, the existence

Page 958

 of the death penalty in this country is virtually an illusion.  Since 1976, hundreds of juries have sentenced hundreds of persons to death, presumably in the belief that the death penalty in those circumstances is warranted, yet virtually nothing happens except endlessly drawn out legal proceedings such as those adverted to above.  of the hundreds of prisoners condemned to die who languish on the various "death rows," few of them appear to face any imminent prospect of their sentence being executed.  Indeed, in the five years since Gregg v. Georgia, there has been only one execution of a defendant who has persisted in his attack upon his sentence.  See Spenkelink v. Wainwright, 442 U.S. 1301, 99 S.Ct. 2901, 60 L.Ed.2d 649 (1979) (REHNQUIST, J., in chambers).  My in-chambers opinion in that case describes some of the many avenues of relief which can be pursued by one sentenced to death.

        I do not think that this Court can continue to evade some responsibility...

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