Murphy v. Hunt

Decision Date02 March 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-2165,80-2165
Citation102 S.Ct. 1181,71 L.Ed.2d 353,455 U.S. 478
PartiesJames M. MURPHY, District Judge, Fourth Judicial District of the State of Nebraska, Douglas County, Appellant, v. Eugene L. HUNT
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

PER CURIAM.

Appellee Hunt was charged with first-degree sexual assault on a child and three counts of first-degree forcible sexual assault. He appeared on these charges in Omaha Municipal Court where his request for bail was denied.1 On May 23, 1980, a bail review hearing was held in Douglas County District Court. Relying on Art. I, § 9, of the Nebraska Constitution, Judge Murphy, appellant here, denied Hunt's second application for bail.2 That section of the Nebraska Constitution provides in relevant part: "All persons shall be bailable . . . except for treason, sexual offenses involving penetration by force or against the will of the victim, and murder, where the proof is evident or the presumption great." For purposes of his application for bail, Hunt's counsel stipulated that, in this case, "the proof [was] evident and the presumption [was] great."

On June 9, 1980, pending trial on the charges against him, Hunt filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp.V) in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. He claimed that Art. I, § 9, of the State Constitution, limiting bail in cases of first-degree sexual offenses, violated his federal constitutional rights to be free from excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, to due process and equal protection of the laws, and to the effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief only. On October 17, 1980, the District Court dismissed Hunt's civil rights complaint. Hunt appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Meanwhile, the prosecutions against Hunt had proceeded. On September 10, 1980—even prior to the District Court decision—and November 5, 1980, he was found guilty of two of the three first-degree forcible sexual assault charges against him. On November 13, 1980, he was sentenced to consecutive terms of 8-15 years in prison for these offenses.3 On October 8, 1980, again prior to the decision of the District Court, Hunt was convicted of first-degree sexual assault on a child. On December 11, 1980, he was sentenced to 12-15 years in prison on this charge. Hunt appealed each of these convictions to the Nebraska Supreme Court and each of these appeals remains pending before that court.

On May 13, 1981, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided Hunt's appeal from the dismissal of his § 1983 claim. Hunt v. Roth, 648 F.2d 1148 (1981). The court reversed the District Court and held that the exclusion of violent sexual offenses from bail before trial violates the Excessive Bail Clause of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.4 Because we find that Hunt's constitutional claim to pretrial bail became moot following his convictions in state court, we now vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

In general a case becomes moot " 'when the issues presented are no longer "live" or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.' " United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 396, 100 S.Ct. 1202, 1208, 63 L.Ed.2d 479 (1980), quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 1950, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969). It would seem clear that under this general rule Hunt's claim to pretrial bail was moot once he was convicted.5 The question was no longer live because even a favorable decision on it would not have entitled Hunt to bail. For the same reason, Hunt no longer had a legally cognizable interest in the result in this case. He had not prayed for damages nor had he sought to represent a class of pretrial detainees.

We have recognized an exception to the general rule in cases that are "capable of repetition, yet evading review." In Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149, 96 S.Ct. 347, 348, 46 L.Ed.2d 350 (1975) (per curiam ), we said that "in the absence of a class action, the 'capable of repetition, yet evading review' doctrine was limited to the situation where two elements combined: (1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." See Illinois Elections Bd. v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 187, 99 S.Ct. 983, 991, 59 L.Ed.2d 230 (1979); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975). Because the Nebraska Supreme Court might overturn each of Hunt's three convictions, and because Hunt might then once again demand bail before trial, the Court of Appeals held that the matter fell within this class of cases "capable of repetition, yet evading review." 6 We reach a different conclusion.

The Court has never held that a mere physical or theoretical possibility was sufficient to satisfy the test stated in Weinstein. If this were true, virtually any matter of short duration would be reviewable. Rather, we have said that there must be a "reasonable expectation" or a "demonstrated probability" that the same controversy will recur involving the same complaining party. Weinstein v. Bradford, supra, at 149, 96 S.Ct., at 348. We detect no such level of probability in this case. All we know from the record is that Hunt has been convicted on three separate offenses and that his counsel was willing to stipulate that, for the purposes of Hunt's eligibility for bail, the proof of guilt was evident and the presumption great. Based on these two facts, we cannot say that there exists a "reasonable expectation" or "demonstrated probability" that Hunt will ever again be in this position. There is no reason to expect that all three of Hunt's convictions will be overturned on appeal.7 Hunt's willingness to stipulate that the proof against him was "evident" does not encourage us to believe otherwise.

Nor is Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539, 96 S.Ct. 2791, 49 L.Ed.2d 683 (1976), relied upon by the Court of Appeals, to the contrary. In that case we held that the constitutionality of a pretrial restrictive order, entered prior to a criminal trial and that expired once the jury was impaneled, was not moot even though the order had long since expired. The Court found that the controversy between the parties was "capable of repetition" because the defendant's conviction might be overturned on appeal, requiring a new trial and possibly a new restrictive order, and because the dispute between the Nebraska Press Association and the State of Nebraska as to the use of restrictive orders was likely to recur in future criminal trials. It was the combination of these elements, both of which were capable of repetition, that permitted the Court to conclude that the matter was not moot under the standard stated in Weinstein. 8

There is no comparable set of expectations in this case. We have no reason to believe that Hunt will once again be in a position to demand bail before trial.

Accordingly, we find that the case presented is now moot. Indeed, it was moot at the time of the decisions of both the District Court and the Court of Appeals. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions that the complaint be dismissed.

So ordered.

Justice WHITE dissenting.

Art. I, § 9, of the Nebraska Constitution states that aside from individuals charged with treason, murder, or forcible rape where the proof is evident or the presumption great, "[a]ll persons shall be bailable." The section is not limited to persons awaiting trial. Moreover, the Nebraska statute concerning appeals to the State Supreme Court provides that "[n]othing herein shall prevent any person from giving supersedeas bond in the district court . . . nor affect the right of a defendant in a criminal case to be admitted to bail pending the review of such case in the Supreme Court." Neb.Rev.Stat. § 25-1912 (1979).1 Thus, the provision in the Nebraska Constitution which allowed Judge Murphy to deny appellee Hunt bail pending trial also serves to deny Hunt bail pending appeal of his conviction. Both parties agree that this is so.2

The Court does not dispute that Art. I, § 9, of the Nebraska Constitution applies to applications for bail pending appeal. Instead the Court considers this factor irrelevant because Hunt has not requested bail pending appeal and because the Court of Appeals held the Nebraska constitutional provision unconstitutional only as applied to pretrial detainees. Ante, at 481-482, n. 5.

I am not persuaded that the issue can be so lightly dismissed. The claim is plainly presented in this Court that the challenged provision effectively bars bail during Hunt's appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court. If § 9 were declared unconstitutional here, Hunt could seek bail pending review of his convictions by that court. The fact that he has not yet filed such a request in the state courts cannot be taken as a waiver of the right to request release. Because Hunt was denied bail before trial under § 9, a request for bail after conviction would have been a useless formality. The provision forbids releasing on bail an individual charged with forcible rape where the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption great. Since Judge Murphy found that standard satisfied before Hunt's conviction, appellant could reasonably conclude that further application under current Nebraska law would be futile.

Because § 9 is an independent barrier denying Hunt the ability to obtain bail pending appeal, the question is not whether his pretrial detention is "capable of repetition, yet evading review." We therefore need not ask whether there is a reasonable expectation that Hunt would again be denied bail prior to trial.3 The unavailability of an opportunity for bail pending appeal may...

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