486 U.S. 249 (1988), 86-6284, Satterwhite v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 86-6284
Citation:486 U.S. 249, 108 S.Ct. 1792, 100 L.Ed.2d 284, 56 U.S.L.W. 4470
Party Name:Satterwhite v. Texas
Case Date:May 31, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 249

486 U.S. 249 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1792, 100 L.Ed.2d 284, 56 U.S.L.W. 4470

Satterwhite

v.

Texas

No. 86-6284

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1988

Argued December 8, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

Syllabus

After petitioner was charged with the capital crime of murder committed during a robbery, but before he was represented by counsel, he was subjected to a court-ordered examination by a psychologist to determine his competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of the offense, and future dangerousness. Petitioner was not served with copies of the State's motion for the examination or the court's order. Petitioner was later indicted, counsel was appointed to represent him, and he was arraigned. The District Attorney, without serving a copy of his motion on defense counsel, requested a second psychiatric evaluation of petitioner as to the same matters. Without determining whether defense counsel had been notified of the State's motion, the trial court granted the motion and ordered an examination by the same psychologist and a specified psychiatrist. Later, a letter to the court from another psychiatrist (Dr. Grigson) appeared in the court file, stating that, pursuant to court order, he had examined petitioner and that he concluded that petitioner had "a severe antisocial personality disorder and is extremely dangerous and will commit future acts of violence." After petitioner was tried by a jury and convicted of capital murder, a separate sentencing procedure was conducted in accordance with Texas law before the same jury. Appearing as a witness for the State, Dr. Grigson testified, over defense counsel's objection, that in his opinion petitioner presented a continuing threat to society through acts of criminal violence. The jury answered affirmatively the special verdict questions as to whether the State had proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, (1) that the defendant's conduct causing the death was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the victim's death would result, and (2) that there was "a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society." The court, as required by state law, sentenced petitioner to death. On petitioner's appeal of his death sentence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the admission of Dr. Grigson's testimony violated the Sixth Amendment right, recognized in Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454, of a defendant formally charged with a capital crime to consult with counsel before submitting to a psychiatric examination designed to determine future dangerousness. However, the court concluded that the constitutional violation

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was subject to harmless error [108 S.Ct. 1794] analysis, and that the error was harmless in this case.

Held:

1. The use, at the capital sentencing proceeding, of Dr. Grigson's testimony on the issue of future dangerousness violated the Sixth Amendment. The Court of Criminal Appeals properly determined that there had been no compliance with the Sixth Amendment requirement, set out in Estelle v. Smith, that defense counsel be given advance notice of a psychiatric examination encompassing the issue of future dangerousness. Petitioner's right to counsel had attached at the time Dr. Grigson examined him in jail, and the record does not support the State's contention that various ex parte motions and orders contained in the court file provided defense counsel with notice that an examination encompassing the issue of petitioner's future dangerousness would take place. Moreover, even if the ex parte orders and filings were timely and were applicable to Dr. Grigson's examination, they did not adequately notify defense counsel that Dr. Grigson would examine the petitioner to assess his future dangerousness. Constructive notice to defense counsel achieved by mere placement of the State's motions and the court's ex parte orders in the court file does not satisfy the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 256-258.

2. The harmless error rule set forth in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 -- which held that, if the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a constitutional error did not contribute to the verdict, the error is harmless and the verdict may stand -- applies to the admission of psychiatric testimony in violation of the Sixth Amendment right set out in Estelle v. Smith. Some constitutional violations -- including Sixth Amendment violations that pervade the entire criminal proceeding -- by their very nature cast so much doubt on the fairness on the trial process that, as a matter of law, they can never be considered harmless. However, the effect of the Sixth Amendment violation in this case is limited to the admission into evidence of Dr. Grigson's testimony. It is important to avoid error in capital sentencing proceedings. Moreover, the evaluation of the consequences of an error in the sentencing phase of a capital case may be more difficult because of the discretion that is given to the sentencer. Nevertheless, a reviewing court can make an intelligent judgment about whether the erroneous admission of psychiatric testimony might have affected a capital sentencing jury. Pp. 256-258.

3. The Court of Criminal Appeals improperly held that the erroneous admission of Dr. Grigson's testimony was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The court concluded that the admission of this testimony on the critical issue of "future dangerousness" -- a probability of which must be found before a death sentence may be imposed under Texas law -- was harmless because the legally admitted evidence was sufficient to support

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the jury's finding of future dangerousness. However, under the Chapman harmless error test, the controlling question is whether the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained. Upon reviewing all the evidence at the sentencing hearing, this Court finds it impossible to say beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Grigson's expert testimony on the issue of petitioner's future dangerousness did not influence the sentencing jury. Pp. 258-260.

726 S.W.2d 81, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in Part II of which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 260. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 267. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981), we recognized that defendants formally charged with capital crimes have a Sixth Amendment right to consult with counsel before submitting to psychiatric examinations designed to determine their future dangerousness. The question in this case is whether it was harmless error to introduce psychiatric testimony obtained in violation of that safeguard in a capital sentencing proceeding.

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I

On March 15, 1979, petitioner John T. Satterwhite was charged with the capital crime of murdering Mary Francis Davis during a robbery. The next day, before Satterwhite was represented by counsel, the presiding District Judge granted the State's request for a psychological examination to determine Satterwhite's competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of the offense, and future dangerousness. 1 Record 2. Though the State's motion and the court's order were placed in the court file, Satterwhite was not served with copies of either. Psychologist Betty Lou Schroeder examined Satterwhite pursuant to the court's order.

Satterwhite was indicted on April 4. The trial court appointed counsel to represent him and sent a copy of the appointment letter to the Bexar County District Attorney. App. 10. Satterwhite was arraigned on April 13. On April 17, the District Attorney filed a second motion requesting a psychiatric evaluation of Satterwhite's competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of the crime, and future dangerousness. App. 12. The District Attorney did not serve defense counsel with a copy of this motion. The next day, without determining whether defense counsel had been notified of the State's motion, the trial court granted the motion and ordered the Sheriff to produce Satterwhite for examination by psychologist Betty Lou Schroeder and psychiatrist John T. Holbrook. The record does not reveal when the court's order was placed in the court file.1

On May 18, a letter to the trial court from psychiatrist James P. Grigson, M. D., appeared in the court file. Dr.

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Grigson wrote that, pursuant to court order, he had examined Satterwhite on May 3, 1979, in the Bexar County Jail. He further reported that, in his opinion, Satterwhite has "a severe antisocial personality disorder and is extremely dangerous and will commit future acts of violence." App. 15-16.

Satterwhite was tried by jury and convicted of capital murder. In accordance with Texas law, a separate proceeding was conducted before the same jury to determine whether he should be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment. See Tex. Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 37.071(a) (Vernon Supp.1988). The State produced Dr. Grigson as a witness in support of its case for the death penalty. Over defense counsel's objection, Dr. Grigson testified that, in his opinion, Satterwhite presented a continuing threat to society through acts of criminal violence.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the court instructed the jury to decide whether the State had proved, beyond a reasonable...

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