Darden v. Wainwright, No. 85-5319

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER
Citation477 U.S. 168,91 L.Ed.2d 144,106 S.Ct. 2464
Docket NumberNo. 85-5319
Decision Date23 June 1986
PartiesWillie Jasper DARDEN, Petitioner v. Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections

477 U.S. 168
106 S.Ct. 2464
91 L.Ed.2d 144
Willie Jasper DARDEN, Petitioner

v.

Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections.

No. 85-5319.
Argued Jan. 13, 1986.
Decided June 23, 1986.
Rehearing Denied Sept. 3, 1986.

See 478 U.S. 1036, 107 S.Ct. 24.

Syllabus

After a jury trial in a Florida court, petitioner was found guilty of murder, robbery, and assault with intent to kill. Pursuant to Florida's capital sentencing statute, the same jury heard further testimony and argument, and made a nonbinding recommendation that the death penalty be imposed. The trial judge followed that recommendation, and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence, rejecting petitioner's contention that the prosecution's closing argument during the guilt phase of the trial rendered the trial fundamentally unfair and deprived the sentencing determination of the reliability required by the Eighth Amendment. The court also rejected petitioner's contention that the trial court erred in excluding a member of the venire for cause on the basis of his affirmative response to the judge's question during voir dire "Do you have any moral or religious, conscientious moral or religious principles in opposition to the death penalty so strong that you would be unable without violating your own principles to vote to recommend a death penalty regardless of the facts?" In subsequent federal habeas corpus proceedings, petitioner raised the same claims, as well as the additional claim that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of his trial. The District Court denied relief, and the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed the District Court's judgment in all of its aspects.

Held:

1. The record of the jury voir dire, viewed in its entirety, shows that the trial court's decision to exclude the juror involved here was proper. Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed.2d 841, held that the proper test is whether a juror's views on capital punishment would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath. Petitioner's argument on this issue rested solely on the wording of the question (quoted above) that the trial court asked the juror before excluding him. However, a proper determination of the issue requires examination of the context surrounding the juror's exclusion. The record shows that prior to individual questioning the trial court told the entire venire that they would be questioned on this point, and that the juror in question was present while the court re-

Page 169

peatedly stated the correct standard when questioning other individual members of the panel. Pp. 175-178.

2. The record also supports the rejection of petitioner's contention as to the prosecution's closing argument. The prosecution's argument included improper remarks that indicated that petitioner was on weekend furlough from an earlier prison sentence when the crime involved here occurred; implied that the death penalty would be the only guarantee against a future similar act; referred to petitioner as an "animal"; and reflected an emotional reaction to the case. However, the relevant question is whether the comments so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. Viewed under this standard, the prosecution's comments did not deprive petitioner of a fair trial. The comments did not manipulate or misstate the evidence, or implicate other specific rights of the accused, and much of their objectionable content was responsive to the opening summation of the defense (available under a state procedural rule). Moreover, defense counsel were able to use their final rebuttal argument to turn much of the prosecution's closing argument against it. Pp. 178-183.

3. With respect to the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of the trial, petitioner failed to satisfy the first part of the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674, that his trial counsels' performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. There is no merit to petitioner's contention that trial counsel devoted only the time between the close of the guilt phase of trial and the start of the penalty phase—approximately one-half hour—to prepare the case in mitigation. The record indicates that a great deal of time and effort went into the defense of this case; a significant portion of that time was devoted to preparation for sentencing. Moreover, a defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action of counsel might be considered sound trial strategy. Petitioner did not overcome that presumption here. The record shows several reasons why counsel reasonably could have chosen to rely on a simple plea for mercy from petitioner himself, rather than to attempt to introduce mitigating evidence. Pp. 184-187.

767 F.2d 752 (CA11 1985), affirmed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, at 187. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, at 188. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, at 188.

Page 170

Robert A. Harper, Jr., Tallahassee, Fla., for petitioner.

Richard W. Prospect, Daytona Beach, Fla., for respondent.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents three questions concerning the validity of petitioner's criminal conviction and death sentence: (i) whether the exclusion for cause of a member of the venire violated the principles announced in Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed. 841 (1985); (ii) whether the prosecution's closing argument during the guilt phase of a bifurcated trial rendered the trial fundamentally unfair and deprived the sentencing determination of the reliability required by the Eighth Amendment; and (iii) whether petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of his trial.

I

Petitioner was tried and found guilty of murder, robbery, and assault with intent to kill in the Circuit Court for Citrus County, Florida, in January 1974. Pursuant to Florida's capital sentencing statute, the same jury that convicted petitioner heard further testimony and argument in order to make a nonbinding recommendation as to whether a death sentence should be imposed. The jury recommended a death sentence, and the trial judge followed that recommendation. On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence. Petitioner made several of the same arguments in that appeal that he makes here. With respect to the prosecutorial misconduct claim, the court disapproved of the closing argument, but reasoned that the law required a new trial "only in those cases in which it is reasonably evident that the remarks might have influenced the jury to reach a more severe verdict of guilt . . . or in which the comment is unfair." Darden v. State, 329 So.2d 287, 289 (1976). It concluded that the comments had not rendered

Page 171

petitioner's trial unfair. Petitioner's challenge to the juror exclusion was rejected without comment. Petitioner did not at that time raise his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. This Court granted certiorari, 429 U.S. 917, 97 S.Ct. 308, 50 L.Ed.2d 282 (1976), limited the grant to the claim of prosecutorial misconduct, 429 U.S. 1036, 97 S.Ct. 729, 50 L.Ed.2d 747 (1977), heard oral argument, and dismissed the writ as improvidently granted, 430 U.S. 704, 97 S.Ct. 1671, 51 L.Ed.2d 751 (1977).

Petitioner then sought federal habeas corpus relief, raising the same claims he raises here. The District Court denied the petition. Darden v. Wainwright, 513 F.Supp. 947 (MD Fla.1981). A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Darden v. Wainwright, 699 F.2d 1031 (1983). The Court of Appeals granted rehearing en banc, and affirmed the District Court by an equally divided court. 708 F.2d 646 (1983). Following a second rehearing en banc the Court of Appeals reversed on the claim of improper excusal of a member of the venire. 725 F.2d 1526 (1984). This Court granted the State's petition for certiorari on that claim, vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment, and remanded for reconsideration in light of Wainwright v. Witt. 469 U.S. 1202, 105 S.Ct. 1158, 84 L.Ed.2d 311 (1985). On remand, the en banc court denied relief, 767 F.2d 752 (1985). Petitioner filed an application for a stay of his execution that this Court treated as a petition for certiorari and granted, at the same time staying his execution. 473 U.S. 928, 106 S.Ct. 21, 87 L.Ed.2d 699 (1985). We now affirm.

II

Because of the nature of petitioner's claims, the facts of this case will be stated in more detail than is normally necessary in this Court. On September 8, 1973, at about 5:30 p.m., a black adult male entered Carl's Furniture Store near Lakeland, Florida. The only other person in the store was the proprietor, Mrs. Turman, who lived with her husband in a house behind the store. Mr. Turman, who worked nights at a juvenile home, had awakened at about 5 p.m., had a cup of coffee at the store with his wife, and returned home to let

Page 172

their dogs out for a run. Mrs. Turman showed the man around the store. He stated that he was interested in purchasing about $600 worth of furniture for a rental unit, and asked to see several different items. He left the store briefly, stating that his wife would be back to look at some of the items.

The same man returned just a few minutes later asking to see some stoves, and inquiring about the price. When Mrs. Turman turned toward the adding machine, he grabbed her and pressed a gun to her back, saying...

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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
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    ...to establish Hodge's guilt. Such misrepresentations are themselves unacceptable prosecutorial conduct. See Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181-82, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 (1986) (noting that the court did not find it appropriate to overturn Darden's conviction in a habeas proceed......
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    ...different. 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 693-94, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 2067-68, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); accord Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 187, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 2473-74, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 Page 1321 (1986); United States v. Cruz, 785 F.2d 399, 405 (2d Cir.1986). "Failure to make the required showing o......
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    ...comments "so infected the trial with" unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process." Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 (1986) quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974). Where prosecut......
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    ...comments 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'" Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181 (1986) (quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642 (1974)); Durr v. Mitchell, 487 F.3d 423, 439 (6th Cir. 2007). The Sixth Circuit......
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5400 cases
  • Hodge v. Hurley, No. 03-3166.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • October 12, 2005
    ...to establish Hodge's guilt. Such misrepresentations are themselves unacceptable prosecutorial conduct. See Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181-82, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 (1986) (noting that the court did not find it appropriate to overturn Darden's conviction in a habeas proceed......
  • U.S. v. Nersesian, Nos. 600
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    • June 29, 1987
    ...different. 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 693-94, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 2067-68, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); accord Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 187, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 2473-74, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 Page 1321 (1986); United States v. Cruz, 785 F.2d 399, 405 (2d Cir.1986). "Failure to make the required showing o......
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    • United States
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    • March 22, 2007
    ...comments "so infected the trial with" unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process." Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181, 106 S.Ct. 2464, 91 L.Ed.2d 144 (1986) quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974). Where prosecut......
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    • April 24, 2012
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1 books & journal articles
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
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    ...U.S. ___ (2009)(continued)Zschirnt and Randol 337 Table A1. (continued)Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. 2951 (2011)Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1986)Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122 (1976)Dawson v. Delaware, 503 U.S. 159 (1992)Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622 (2005)Delo v. Lashley, 507 U......

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