Estelle v. Dorrough 8212 479

Citation43 L.Ed.2d 377,95 S.Ct. 1173,420 U.S. 534
Decision Date17 March 1975
Docket NumberNo. 74,74
PartiesW. J. ESTELLE, Jr., Corrections Director v. Jerry Mack DORROUGH. —479
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 421 U.S. 921, 95 S.Ct. 1589.


Respondent Jerry Mack Dorrough was convicted in 1963 in a Texas District Court of robbery and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 25 years. After he was sentenced and had filed an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, he escaped from the Dallas County jail by stealing a federal mail truck. He was recaptured two days after his escape. After his recapture, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals removed his appeal from its docket pursuant to the provisions of Vernon's Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Ann., Art. 44.09 (1966), which provides for the automatic dismissal of such pending appeals by an escaped felon upon escape with provision for reinstatement of the appeal if the felon voluntarily surrenders within 10 days of his escape.1

After recapture, respondent was tried and convicted on federal charges and given a 25-year federal sentence which he is currently serving. The State of Texas has filed a detainer warrant with federal authorities against Dorrough in order to compel him to serve the remainder of his state sentence upon release from federal custody. In 1972, respondent filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas a complaint which was treated by that court as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the 1963 dismissal of his appeal under Art. 44.09 denied him equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.2 The United States District Court denied relief, holding that Art. 44.09 was a rational exercise of legislative power.3 The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. It held that Art. 44.09 denied respondent equal protection of the law, and ordered that the State's detainer warrant would be voided unless Texas provided respondent with either a direct appeal or a new trial.4 Petitioner has now sought review by certiorari, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1254(1), of the judgment of the Court of Appeals. For the reasons stated, we grant the writ and reverse the judgment.

The Court of Appeals correctly recognized that there is no federal constitutional right to state appellate review of state criminal convictions. McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684, 687, 14 S.Ct. 913, 914, 38 L.Ed. 867 (1894); Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 18, 76 S.Ct. 585, 590, 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956); Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 610—611, 94 S.Ct. 2437, 2443—2444, 41 L.Ed.2d 341 (1974). Disposition by dismissal of pending appeals of escaped prisoners is a longstanding and established principle of American law. 18 Geo.Wash.L.Rev. 427, 429 (1950). This Court itself has long followed the practice of declining to review the convictions of escaped criminal defendants. Smith v. United States, 94 U.S. 97, 24 L.Ed. 32 (1876); Bonahan v. Nebraska, 125 U.S. 692, 8 S.Ct. 1390, 31 L.Ed. 854 (1887); Eisler v. United States, 338 U.S. 189, 69 S.Ct. 1453, 93 L.Ed. 1897 (1949); id., at 883, 70 S.Ct. 181, 94 L.Ed. 542; cf. Allen v. Rose, 419 U.S. 1080, 95 S.Ct. 669, 42 L.Ed.2d 675 (1974). Thus in Molinaro v. New Jersey, 396 U.S. 365, 90 S.Ct. 498, 24 L.Ed.2d 586 (1970), we dismissed the appeal of an escaped criminal defendant, stating that no persuasive reason exists to adjudicate the merits of such a case and that an escape 'disentitles the defendant to call upon the resources of the Court for determination of his claims.' Id., at 366, 90 S.Ct., at 499. In Allen v. Georgia, 166 U.S. 138, 17 S.Ct. 525, 41 L.Ed. 949 (1897), we upheld as against a constitutional due process attack a state court's dismissal of the appeal of an escaped prisoner and its refusal to reinstate the appeal upon his later recapture. See also National Union v. Arnold, 348 U.S. 37, 43, 75 S.Ct. 92, 95, 99 L.Ed. 46 (1954).

The Texas courts have found similar ends served by Art. 44.09. It discourages the felony of escape and encourages voluntary surrenders.5 It promotes the efficient, dignified operation of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.6

The Court of Appeals, however, found two classifications created by the statute to lack any rational relation to its purposes and hence concluded that the statute was unconstitutional as violative of the Equal Protec- tion Clause. 7 That court recognized that appeals from state criminal convictions are not 'explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution,' San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 33—34, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1297, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973) and that this Court in dealing with equal protection challenges to state regulation of the right of appeal in criminal cases had applied the traditional national-basis test. Rinaldi v. Yeager, 384 U.S. 305, 86 S.Ct. 1497, 16 L.Ed.2d 577 (1966). There this Court said:

"The Constitution does not require things which are different in fact . . . to be treated in law as though they were the same.' Tigner v. Texas, 310 U.S. 141, 147, 60 S.Ct. 879, 882, 84 L.Ed. 1124. Hence, legislation may impose special burdens upon defined classes in order to achieve permissible ends. But the Equal Protection Clause does require that, in defining a class subject to legislation, the distinctions that are drawn have 'some relevance to the purpose for which the classification is made.' Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 111, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620; Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 93, 85 S.Ct. 775, 778, 13 L.Ed.2d 675; Louisville Gas Co., v. Coleman, 277 U.S. 32, 37, 48 S.Ct. 423, 425, 72 L.Ed. 770; Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.S. 412, 415, 40 S.Ct. 560, 561—562, 64 L.Ed. 989.' Id., at 309, 86 S.Ct., at 1500.

The Court of Appeals thought that this test rendered the statute invalid for two reasons. First, while the statute provides for reinstatement of the appeal of most escaped felons only if they voluntarily surrender within 10 days, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may in its discretion reinstate the appeals of prisoners under a sentence of life imprisonment or death if they are returned to custody within 30 days.8 Second, the statute applies only to those prisoners with appeals pending at the time of their escape; prisoners who have not invoked the appellate process by filing an appeal at the time of their escape may still appeal after recapture if applicable appellate time limits have not run. We disagree with the analysis of the Court of Appeals, and find that neither of these distinctions offends the Equal Protection Clause.

Insofar as the separate treatment of prisoners under a sentence of life imprisonment or death is concerned, we see no reason why the Texas Legislature was not free to separate these two most severe sentences from other terms of imprisonment, and provide an additional period of discretionary review for them but not for the remainder. The Court of Appeals determined that under Texas law a prisoner serving a sentence for a term greater than 60 years would not be eligible for parole any sooner than a prisoner under life sentence, and from that fact concluded that there could be no rational distinction between those serving a life term and those serving a term in excess of sixty years. 497 F.2d 1007, 1012—1013. It is not altogether clear how respondent, who himself has been sentenced to 25 years, could assert the rights of those under term sentences of 60 years or more.9 But apart from this difficulty, we see no reason why the Texas Legislature could not focus on the actual severity of the sentence imposed in making distinctions, rather than on the collateral consequence of sentence elaborated by the Court of Appeals. The State of Texas could reasonably balance its concern with deterring escapes and encouraging surrenders with its alternative interest in allowing the validity of particularly severe sentences to be tested by appellate review. In doing so, it was not required to draw lines with 'mathematical nicety.' Lindsley v. National Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61, 78—79, 31 S.Ct. 337, 340—341, 55 L.Ed. 369 (1911); Morey v. Doud, 354 U.S. 457, 463—464, 77 S.Ct. 1344, 1348—1349, 1 L.Ed.2d 1485 (1957).

Nor do we find the statutory limitation of the dismissal requirement to those prisoners with appeals pending at the time of their escape violative of the Equal Protection Clause. The Court of Appeals felt that the statute was 'underinclusive' for this reason, since a prisoner who had not invoked the appellate process by filing an appeal at the time of his escape might still appeal after recapture if the prescribed time for filing an appeal had not expired.

Criminal defendants in Texas are subject to relatively stringent time limits for filing their appeals.10 Since an escape defendant cannot comply with the required appellate steps during the time he is not confined, these time limits serve much the same function as Art. 44.09. Whatever difference in treatment exists between the class of prisoners who escape, return, and are nonetheless able to file an appeal, and those whose appeals are dismissed pursuant to Art. 44.09, is sufficiently rational to withstand a challenge based on the Equal Protection Clause. Texas was free to deal more severely with those who simultaneously invoked the appellate process and escaped from its custody than with those who first escaped from its custody, returned, and then invoked the appellate process within the time permitted by law. While each class of prisoners sought to escape, the first did so in the very midst of their invocation of the appellate process, while the latter did so before returning to custody and commencing that process. If Texas is free to adopt a policy which deters escapes by prisoners, as all of our cases make clear that it is, it is likewise free to impose more severe sanctions on those whose escape is reasonably calculated to disrupt the very appellate process which they themselves have set in...

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