Hilton v. Braunskill

Decision Date26 May 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86-108,86-108
Citation95 L.Ed.2d 724,107 S.Ct. 2113,481 U.S. 770
PartiesGary HILTON, Superintendent, New Jersey State Prison, et al., Petitioners v. Dana BRAUNSKILL
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 23(c) provides that, when a State appeals a federal-court decision granting a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner, the habeas petitioner shall be released from custody "unless the court or justice or judge rendering the decision, or the court of appeals or the Supreme Court, or a judge or justice of either court shall otherwise order." Rule 23(d) states that initial orders issued pursuant to Rule 23(c) shall "govern review in the court of appeals and in the Supreme Court unless for special reasons shown . . . the order shall be modified, or an independent order respecting custody, enlargement or surety shall be made." Respondent, a prisoner serving a state-court sentence, filed a habeas corpus petition in the Federal District Court, which found that his constitutional rights had been violated at his state-court trial and ordered that a writ of habeas corpus "shall issue unless within 30 days" the State granted a new trial. The court subsequently denied petitioners' motion to stay its order pending appeal, basing its denial on Third Circuit authority that under Rules 23(c) and (d) a federal court deciding whether to release a successful habeas petitioner could consider only the risk that the prisoner would not appear for subsequent proceedings, not his danger to the community, and finding that petitioners had failed to show such risk here. The Court of Appeals denied petitioners' motion for a stay of the District Court's order releasing respondent.

Held: In deciding under Rules 23(c) and (d) whether to stay pending appeal a district court order granting relief to a habeas petitioner, federal courts are not restricted to considering only the petitioner's risk of flight. The history of federal habeas corpus practice indicates that a court has broad discretion in conditioning a judgment granting habeas relief, and a court's denial of enlargement to a successful habeas petitioner pending review of the habeas order has the same effect as a stay of that order. Since habeas corpus proceedings are civil in nature, federal courts, in deciding under the Rule whether to release a successful habeas petitioner pending the State's appeal, should be guided by the traditional standards governing stays of civil judgments—whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and where the public interest lies. Although Rule 23(c) creates a presumption favoring release of a successful habeas petitioner pending appeal, and Rule 23(d) creates a presumption of correctness of the District Court's order, such presumptions may be overcome if so indicated by the traditional stay factors, which contemplate individualized judgments in each case. Thus, consideration may be given to such factors as the possibility of the prisoner's flight; the risk that the prisoner will pose a danger to the public if released; the State's interest in continuing custody and rehabilitation pending a final determination on appeal; and the prisoner's substantial interest in release pending appeal. Respondent's contention that matters of "traditional state concern" such as the prisoner's danger to the community should not be considered in determining whether to release the prisoner pending appeal is unpersuasive. Any strain on federal-state relations that arises from federal habeas jurisdiction comes about because of the granting of habeas relief itself, not the existence of habeas courts' discretion to refuse enlargement of a successful habeas petitioner pending appeal. Nor is there any merit to respondent's contention that staying a successful habeas petitioner's release pending appeal because of dangerousness is repugnant to the concept of substantive due process. Pp. 774-779.

Vacated and remanded.

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

John G. Holl, Morristown, N.J., for petitioners.

Mark H. Friedman, East Orange, N.J., for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 23(c) provides that, when the Government appeals a decision granting a writ of habeas corpus, the habeas petitioner shall be released from custody "unless the court or justice or judge rendering the decision, or the court of appeals or the Supreme Court, or a judge or justice of either court shall otherwise order." Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 23(d) states that initial orders issued pursuant to Rule 23(c) shall "govern review in the court of appeals and in the Supreme Court unless for special reasons shown . . . the order shall be modified, or an independent order respecting custody, enlargement or surety shall be made." 1 In this case, we are asked to decide what factors these provisions allow a court to consider in determining whether to release a state prisoner pending appeal of a district court order granting habeas relief.

In January 1981, respondent Dana Braunskill was convicted in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, of sexual assault and unlawful possession of a weapon, in violation of N.J.Stat.Ann. §§ 2C:14-2, 2C:39-5(d) (West 1982 and Supp.1986-1987), and was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court affirmed the convictions, and the New Jersey Supreme Court denied review.

Respondent then, in 1985, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Finding that respondent's Sixth Amendment rights had been violated at his trial, the District Court granted respondent's petition and ordered that "a writ of habeas corpus shall issue unless within 30 days the State of New Jersey shall afford [respondent] a new trial." 629 F.Supp. 511, 526 (1986). Petitioners subsequently moved the District Court to stay its order pending appeal. Relying on Carter v. Rafferty, 781 F.2d 993, 997 (CA3 1986), the District Court determined that it could grant petitioners' request only if they demonstrated that there was risk that respondent would not appear for subsequent proceedings. The court found that petitioners had failed to make such a showing and denied the motion.

Petitioners then filed a motion in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, seeking a stay of the District Court's order releasing respondent. The Court of Appeals denied the motion by order dated May 27, 1986. We granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' denial of the stay, 479 U.S. 881, 107 S.Ct. 268, 93 L.Ed.2d 245 (1986), and now vacate and remand the case to the Court of Appeals.2

In Carter v. Rafferty, supra, the authority governing the Court of Appeals decision in this case,3 the court held that federal courts deciding whether to release a successful habeas petitioner pending appeal may consider the petitioner's risk of flight, but not his danger to the community. The court observed that Rules 23(c) creates a presumption that a prisoner who has received habeas relief is entitled to release from custody. Moreover, the Carter court reasoned, the principal interests that a federal court may consider under Rule 23(c) and (d) are those of ensuring the appearance of the prisoner in subsequent federal proceedings and returning the prisoner to state custody if the State prevails on appeal of the award of habeas relief. To conclude otherwise, the court determined, would result in federal-court intrusion into matters of traditional state concern.

We do not believe that federal courts, in deciding whether to stay pending appeal a district court order granting relief to a habeas petitioner, are as restricted as the Carter court thought. Rule 23(c) undoubtedly creates a presumption of release from custody in such cases,4 but that presumption may be overcome if the judge rendering the decision, or an appellate court or judge, "otherwise orders." Rule 23(d) creates a presumption of correctness for the order of a district court entered pursuant to Rule 23(c), whether that order enlarges the petitioner or refuses to enlarge him, but this presumption may be overcome in the appellate court "for special reasons shown." We think a resort to the history of habeas practice in the federal courts and the traditional standards governing stays of civil judgments in those courts is helpful in illuminating the generality of these terms of Rules 23(c) and (d).

Federal habeas corpus practice, as reflected by the decisions of this Court, indicates that a court has broad discretion in conditioning a judgment granting habeas relief. Federal courts are authorized, under 28 U.S.C. § 2243, to dispose of habeas corpus matters "as law and justice require." In construing § 2243 and its predecessors, this Court has repeatedly stated that federal courts may delay the release of a successful habeas petitioner in order to provide the State an opportunity to correct the constitutional violation found by the court. See, e.g., Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 549, 81 S.Ct. 735, 744, 5 L.Ed.2d 760 (1961); Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 210, 71 S.Ct. 262, 264, 95 L.Ed. 215 (1951); In re Bonner, 151 U.S. 242, 261-262, 14 S.Ct. 323, 327, 38 L.Ed. 149 (1894). Even in 1894, when this Court's Rule 34 indicated that enlargement of successful habeas petitioners pending the State's appeal was mandatory, see n. 4, supra, the Court interpreted the predecessor of § 2243 as vesting a federal court "with the largest...

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