Groseclose ex rel. Harries v. Dutton

Decision Date17 August 1984
Docket NumberNo. 3-84-0579.,3-84-0579.
Citation594 F. Supp. 949
PartiesWilliam GROSECLOSE, et al. ex rel. Ronald HARRIES, Petitioners, v. Michael DUTTON, Warden, et al. Ronald HARRIES, Plaintiff, v. Michael DUTTON, Warden, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee

Larry D. Woods, Jinx Woods, William Marett, Woods, Bryan Woods & Watson, Nashville, Tenn., for William Groseclose et al.

Richard McGee and William Redick, Nashville, Tenn., for Ronald Harries.

Hal D. Hardin, Nashville, Tenn., for Harries as guardian ad litem.

William Leech, Atty. Gen., Wayne E. Uhl and Robert Grunow, Asst. State Attys. Gen., Nashville, Tenn., for Michael Dutton et al.


JOHN T. NIXON, District Judge.

Pursuant to the Court's Memorandum and Order issued on June 8, 1984, Groseclose ex rel. Ronald Harries v. Michael Dutton, et al., 589 F.Supp. 362, (M.D.Tenn. 1984), an evidentiary hearing was held on July 12 and 13, 1984 to determine whether this Court has jurisdiction to entertain the petitioners' third-party next friend habeas corpus petition submitted under 28 U.S.C. § 2242. The petitioners on June 6, 1984 sought habeas corpus relief for Ronald Harries due to his decision to waive post-conviction remedies in state and federal courts challenging his conviction of murder and sentence of death by electrocution, 657 S.W.2d 414, then scheduled for June 13, 1984 by Order of the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee. The respondents sought dismissal of the third-party habeas petition arguing that the petitioners lacked standing to act on behalf of Mr. Harries. Because of the petitioners' allegations and documentary evidence showing that the respondents' administration of drugs to Mr. Harries hampered his ability to appreciate the gravity of his decision to waive judicial relief, this Court concluded that an evidentiary hearing was necessary on the standing of petitioners to invoke this Court's jurisdiction.1 Accordingly, the Court stayed the execution of Ronald Harries.

Since this Court's decision to stay indefinitely the execution of Mr. Harries pending an evidentiary hearing, all parties have engaged in reasonable, unlimited and expedited discovery. 4 J. Moore, Federal Practice and Procedure 26-190 (1983) (district court commits reversible error if it denies plaintiff an opportunity for discovery on jurisdiction in a complicated case). In addition, the passage of time has brought about a clarification of Mr. Harries' position in this case. Although he originally opposed and sought dismissal of the third-party habeas petition, Mr. Harries now contends that while he intelligently decided to waive further judicial review, his decision was not voluntary because of the unconstitutional conditions of confinement to which he is being subjected while in the respondents' custody. By Order issued July 6, 1984, this Court permitted Ronald Harries to proceed in this case as a party plaintiff asserting the issue of his lack of voluntariness in waiving post-conviction remedies due to allegedly inhumane prison conditions.2 The respondents timely moved the Court to reconsider that ruling. That motion and the respondents' motion to strike the sworn statement of Mr. Harries are DENIED for the reasons set forth in this Memorandum.

On July 12 and 13, 1984, the Court heard evidence from all parties on the issue of Mr. Harries' competency, including the lack of voluntariness in his decision to waive further judicial relief. While the evidentiary hearing on July 12 and 13, 1984 was in no way a full evidentiary presentation of the conditions existing on death row at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, this Court permitted evidence on conditions to be admitted for the purpose of considering the issue presented by Mr. Harries. That issue and the competency question are the basis of the petitioners' argument that they have standing and that this Court has jurisdiction over the next friends' habeas petition.

In determining the standing of the petitioners to seek habeas relief for Mr. Harries, this Court applies the standard enunciated by the Fifth Circuit in Weber v. Garza, 570 F.2d 511 (5th Cir.1978), and the Sixth Circuit in Johnson v. Avery, 382 F.2d 353 (6th Cir.1967), rev'd on other grounds, 393 U.S. 483, 89 S.Ct. 747, 21 L.Ed.2d 718 (1969). Those cases establish three requirements that a third-party must satisfy to acquire next friend habeas status under 28 U.S.C. § 2242. First, the third-party applicant must show why the detained person did not sign and verify the petition and the relationship of the third-party applicant to the detained person. Second, the third-party applicant must not be using the next friend vehicle to engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Third, the third-party applicant under 28 U.S.C. § 2242 must "set forth an adequate reason or explanation of the necessity for resort to the `next friend' device," otherwise the Court lacks jurisdiction to review the petition. Weber, 570 F.2d at 513-14. Accord Johnson, 382 F.2d at 357 (next friend petition appropriate when inmate suffers from physical or mental handicaps). There is no question that the petitioners are not using the next friend device to engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Thus, the inquiry in this case is whether there is an adequate explanation for Harries' failure to join in the habeas corpus petition.

The burden of establishing that this Court has jurisdiction is on the petitioners. Weller v. Cromwell Oil Co., 504 F.2d 927, 929 (6th Cir.1974). Given that an evidentiary hearing has been held on the jurisdictional issue, the petitioners must show that jurisdiction exists by a preponderance of the evidence. Welsh v. Gibbs, 631 F.2d 436, 439 (6th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 981, 101 S.Ct. 1517, 67 L.Ed.2d 816 (1981). Accord Armbruster v. Quinn, 711 F.2d 1332, 1335 (6th Cir.1983); Data Disc, Inc. v. Systems Technology Associates, Inc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1285 (9th Cir.1977). The petitioners assert two separate theories on the jurisdictional/standing issue. They maintain initially that a third-party habeas corpus petition on behalf of Mr. Harries is warranted because Mr. Harries is mentally incompetent to make the decision to waive post-conviction remedies, which would result in his execution. Additionally, the petitioners join in Mr. Harries' argument that his decision to waive post-conviction remedies was involuntary because of adverse, if not unconstitutional, conditions of confinement. Thus, the petitioners seek to establish jurisdiction, by a preponderance of the evidence, over the next friend petition because Ronald Harries suffers from a mental disease and because the conditions of his confinement make his waiver of post-conviction remedies involuntary.

Before addressing the merits of these two arguments, this Court recognizes the gravity of the decision presented to Ronald Harries. Because he has not utilized available state and federal post-conviction remedies that would, if triggered, have the concommitant effect of staying his execution for six to ten years, he is allowing the State of Tennessee to execute him without his sentence of death receiving complete state and federal judicial review. Although there is no federal requirement that state criminal convictions undergo post-conviction judicial scrutiny, the right to seek post-conviction relief is one of the greatest constitutional privileges guaranteed to the American citizenry. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 485, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 1833, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). As has been repeatedly emphasized by the Supreme Court, habeas corpus actions are important in the constitutional scheme because they directly protect due process rights, which are highly valued. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 827, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1497, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977) (relying on Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485, 89 S.Ct. 747, 748, 21 L.Ed.2d 718 (1969) and Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2986, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974)). The due process protections embodied within the habeas corpus vehicle envision that "in a civilized society, government must always be accountable to the judiciary for a man's imprisonment: if the imprisonment cannot be shown to conform with the fundamental requirements of law ... then the imprisoned man is entitled to relief." Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 402, 83 S.Ct. 822, 829, 9 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963). If Mr. Harries incompetently or involuntarily decided to waive state and federal post-conviction remedies, then it would be a violation of due process for the respondents to execute him. If, on the other hand, Mr. Harries' decision to waive post-conviction remedies was made competently and voluntarily, then it behooves society to accept that decision. As explained by Justice Rehnquist in his in chambers opinion in the case of Lenhard v. Wolff, 443 U.S. 1306, 100 S.Ct. 3, 61 L.Ed.2d 885 (1979):

The idea that the deliberate decision of one under sentence of death to abandon possible additional legal avenues of attack on that sentence cannot be a rational decision, regardless of its motive, suggests that the preservation of one's own life at whatever cost is the summon bonum, a proposition with respect to which the greatest philosophers and theologians have not agreed and with respect to which the United States Constitution by its terms does not speak.

Id. at 1312-13, 100 S.Ct. at 7. Thus, while Mr. Harries' waiver decision directly affects whether he will live or die, the very nature of that decision does not preclude it from being one that may favor death over life.

Any decision to waive federally guaranteed rights requires that the court be convinced that the waiver decision is made intelligently and intentionally. Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 467-68, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 1024, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938). No less is required when the consequences of the waiver decision may result in the execution of the criminal defendant. Given that waiver of constitutional...

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