489 U.S. 401 (1989), 87-121, Dugger v. Adams

Docket Nº:No. 87-121
Citation:489 U.S. 401, 109 S.Ct. 1211, 103 L.Ed.2d 435, 57 U.S.L.W. 4276
Party Name:Dugger v. Adams
Case Date:February 28, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 401

489 U.S. 401 (1989)

109 S.Ct. 1211, 103 L.Ed.2d 435, 57 U.S.L.W. 4276

Dugger

v.

Adams

No. 87-121

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 28, 1989

Argued November 1, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

At the start of jury selection for respondent's Florida state court trial for first-degree murder, the trial judge instructed the prospective jurors on their responsibility for the sentence they would recommend, stating that the court, not the jury, was responsible for sentencing, and that the jury had merely an advisory role. Defense counsel did not object to these instructions. The jury found respondent guilty and recommended the death sentence, which the trial judge then imposed. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence on direct appeal in which respondent did not allege as error, on either state or federal grounds, the above instructions. Nor did he so allege in a subsequent unsuccessful motion in state court for postconviction relief or in a later unsuccessful federal habeas corpus petition. Thereafter, it was held in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, that the prosecutor's remarks that misinformed the jury in a capital case as to the role of appellate review violated the Eighth Amendment. Based on Caldwell, respondent filed another motion in state court for postconviction relief, challenging for the first time the instructions in question and arguing that they violated the Eighth Amendment by misinforming the jury of its sentencing role under Florida law because the Florida Supreme Court in another case had held that a trial judge could override the jury's recommended sentence only if the facts were "so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ," and that therefore, since the trial judge in this case had told the jurors that the sentencing responsibility was solely his, and failed to tell them that he could override their verdict only under limited circumstances, the judge misled the jury in violation of Caldwell. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court refused to address this argument because respondent had failed to raise it on direct appeal. The Caldwell claim was then raised in respondent's second federal habeas petition, and the District Court held that the claim was procedurally barred. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the claim was so novel at the time of respondent's trial, sentencing, and appeal that its legal basis was not reasonably available, and that therefore he had established cause for his procedural default. The court then proceeded to hold that the instructions in question violated the Eighth Amendment.

Page 402

Held: Caldwell does not provide cause for respondent's procedural default. Despite the availability of a claim that the instructions in question violated state law, respondent did not object to them at trial or challenge them on appeal. As a result, Florida law barred him from raising the issue in later state proceedings. Respondent offered no excuse for his failure to challenge the instructions on state law grounds, and there is none that would amount to good cause in a federal habeas proceeding. What is determinative in this case is that the ground for challenging the instructions -- that they were objectionable under state law -- was a necessary element of the subsequently available Caldwell claim. In such a case, the subsequently available federal claim did not excuse the procedural default. Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1, distinguished. Pp. 405-410.

804 F.2d 1526, and 816 F.2d 1493, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 412.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we decide whether our decision in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985), provided cause for respondent's failure to challenge the trial court's instructions in accordance with state procedures.

Respondent Aubrey Dennis Adams, Jr., was charged with the first-degree murder of 8-year-old Trisa Gail Thornley, and the State sought to impose the death penalty. At the start of jury selection for respondent's trial, the trial judge

Page 403

undertook to instruct the prospective jurors on their "advisory" role under Florida law.1 The judge informed the initial panel of prospective jurors:

The Court is not bound by your recommendation. The ultimate responsibility for what this man gets is not on your shoulders. It's on my shoulders. You are merely an advisory group to me in Phase Two. You can come back and say, Judge, we think you ought to give the man life. I can say, I disregard the recommendation of the Jury, and I give him death. You can come back and say, Judge, we think he ought to be put to death. I can say, I disregard your recommendation, and give him life. So that this conscience part of it, as to whether or not you're going to put the man to death or not, that is not your decision to make. That's only my decision to make, and it has to be on my conscience. It cannot be on yours.

App.19-20.

Page 404

The judge had intended to give this explanation to the entire venire before beginning the selection process, but forgot to do so, and so he gave a similar explanation each time new prospective jurors were seated. As a result, each of the jurors ultimately selected heard the explanation at least once, and several heard it a number of times. In addition, the judge interrupted counsel's voir dire on two occasions to repeat that the court, not the jury, was responsible for sentencing, and again instructed the jury to that effect before it began its deliberations. Defense counsel did not object at any point to these instructions.

On October 20, 1978, the jury found respondent guilty of first-degree murder. After a separate sentencing hearing, the jury recommended that he be sentenced to death, and the trial judge imposed a death [109 S.Ct. 1214] sentence.2 The Florida Supreme Court affirmed respondent's conviction and sentence on direct appeal, Adams v. State, 412 So.2d 850 (1982), and this Court denied certiorari, 459 U.S. 882 (1982). Respondent did not allege as error, on either state or federal grounds, the trial judge's instructions to the jurors on their responsibility for the sentence they would recommend.

In September, 1984, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the denial of respondent's first motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Adams v. State, 456 So.2d 888 (1984). Again, respondent did not challenge the trial judge's statements to the jurors on their responsibility for the death sentence. Respondent next filed his first federal habeas petition in District Court; once again, he did not challenge the trial judge's instructions. The District

Page 405

Court denied his habeas petition on September 18, 1984, Adams v. Wainwright, No. 84-170-Civ-Oc-16 (MD Fla.), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, 764 F.2d 1356 (1985), and this Court denied certiorari, 474 U.S. 1073 (1986).

On June 11, 1985, Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, was decided. The Court there held that remarks by the prosecutor in a capital case that misinformed the jury as to the role of appellate review violated the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 336 (plurality opinion); id. at 341-342 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Based on Caldwell, respondent filed a second motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule 3.850, challenging for the first time the trial judge's statements to the jurors that they were not responsible for the sentence they recommended, and arguing that the judge's instructions violated the Eighth Amendment by misinforming the jury of its role under Florida law. According to respondent, although the Florida death penalty statute provided that the jury's recommendation was only advisory, the Florida Supreme Court had held that a trial judge could only override the jury's verdict if the facts were "so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ." Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (1975) (per curiam). Since the trial judge in this case told the jurors that the sentencing responsibility was solely his, and failed to tell them that he could override their verdict only under limited circumstances, respondent argued, the judge misled the jury in violation of Caldwell. The Florida Supreme Court refused to address respondent's argument on the merits, however, because respondent had failed to raise the argument on direct appeal. Adams v. State, 484 So.2d 1216, 1217, cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1103 (1986).

The Caldwell claim was then raised in respondent's second federal habeas petition. The District Court held that the claim was procedurally barred, and that, alternatively, respondent's Caldwell claim was meritless. Adams v. Wainwright, No. 86-64-Civ-Oc-16 (MD Fla., Mar. 7, 1986), p. 9,

Page 406

App. to Pet. for Cert. A-43, A-56-A-60. The Eleventh Circuit reversed. Adams v. Wainwright, 804 F.2d 1526 (1986), modified on denial of rehearing, 816 F.2d 1493 (1987). The Court of Appeals held that respondent's Caldwell claim

was so novel at the time of [his] trial in October, 1978, and his sentencing and appeal in early 1979 that its legal basis was not reasonably available at that time;

therefore, he had established cause for his procedural default. 816 F.2d at 1498. The court then proceeded to address the merits of respondent's [109 S.Ct. 1215] Caldwell claim, concluding that the trial judge's instructions violated the Eighth Amendment. 804 F.2d at 1532-1533.

We granted certiorari to review the...

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