Smith v. Murray

Decision Date26 June 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85-5487,85-5487
PartiesMichael Marnell SMITH, Petitioner v. Edward W. MURRAY, Director, Virginia Department of Corrections
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Prior to petitioner's trial in a Virginia state court for murder of a woman, he was examined by a psychiatrist appointed by the court at the request of his counsel. During the examination, the psychiatrist asked petitioner both about the murder and prior incidents of deviant sexual conduct, and petitioner stated that he once tore the clothes off a girl on a school bus before deciding not to rape her. Following a jury trial, petitioner was convicted. At the sentencing phase, the prosecution called the psychiatrist to the stand, and, over the defense's objection, he described the incident on the school bus. After further evidence was presented both for the prosecution and petitioner, the jury recommended the death sentence. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitioner raised a number of claims but did not assign any error concerning the admission of the psychiatrist's testimony, his counsel later explaining at a postconviction hearing that he had decided not to pursue that claim after determining that Virginia case law would not support his position at the time. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence, not addressing any issues concerning the prosecution's use of the psychiatric testimony because under a rule of the court only errors assigned by the appellant would be considered. After exhausting state remedies, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which denied the petition. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioner defaulted his underlying constitutional claim as to the admission of the psychiatrist's testimony by failing to press it before the Supreme Court of Virginia on direct appeal. Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 106 S.Ct. p. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397. Pp. 2665-2669.

(a) Petitioner has not carried his burden of showing cause for his noncompliance with Virginia's rules of procedure. A deliberate, tactical decision not to pursue a particular claim is the very antithesis of the kind of circumstance that would warrant excusing a defendant's failure to adhere to a State's rules for the fair and orderly disposition of its criminal cases. Here, counsel's decision not to press the claim in question was not an error of such magnitude that it rendered his performance constitutionally deficient under the test of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674. Nor can petitioner rely on the novelty of the claim as "cause" for noncompliance with Virginia's rules, where it appears that various forms of such a claim had been percolating in the lower courts for years at the time of petitioner's original appeal. Pp. 533-537.

(b) It is clear on the record that application of the cause and prejudice test will not result in a "fundamental miscarriage of justice," where the alleged constitutional error neither precluded the development of true facts nor resulted in the admission of false ones. Thus, even assuming that, as a legal matter, the psychiatrist's testimony should not have been presented to the jury, its admission did not pervert the jury's deliberations concerning the ultimate question of whether in fact petitioner constituted a continuing threat to society. Pp. 537-539.

769 F.2d 170 (CA4 1985), affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, ante, p. 516. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Parts II and III of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 539.

J. Lloyd Snook, III, Charlottesville, Va., for petitioner.

James E. Kulp, Richmond, Va., for respondent.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether and, if so, under what circumstances, a prosecutor may elicit testimony from a mental health professional concerning the content of an interview conducted to explore the possibility of presenting psychiatric defenses at trial. We also agreed to review the Court of Appeals' determination that any error in the admission of the psychiatrist's evidence in this case was irrelevant under the holding of Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 77 L.Ed.2d 235 (1983). On examination, however, we conclude that petitioner defaulted his underlying constitutional claim by failing to press it before the Supreme Court of Virginia on direct appeal. Accordingly, we decline to address the merits of petitioner's claims and affirm the judgment dismissing the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

I

Following a jury trial, petitioner was convicted of the May 1977 murder of Audrey Weiler. According to his confession, petitioner encountered Ms. Weiler in a secluded area near his home and raped her at knifepoint. Fearing that her testimony could send him back to prison, he then grabbed her by the neck and choked her until she fell unconscious. When he realized that she was still alive, he dragged her into a nearby river, submerged her head, and repeatedly stabbed her with his knife. A subsequent medical examination indicated that the death was attributable to three clusters of lethal injuries: asphyxia from strangulation, drowning, and multiple stab wounds.

Prior to the trial, petitioner's appointed counsel, David Pugh, had explored the possibility of presenting a number of psychiatric defenses. Towards that end, Mr. Pugh requested that the trial court appoint a private psychiatrist, Dr. Wendell Pile, to conduct an examination of petitioner. Aware that psychiatric reports were routinely forwarded to the court and that such reports were then admissible under Virginia law, Mr. Pugh had advised petitioner not to discuss any prior criminal episodes with anyone. App. 134. See Gibson v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 412, 219 S.E.2d 845 (1975). Although that general advice was intended to apply to the forthcoming psychiatric examination, Mr. Pugh later testified that he "did not specifically tell [petitioner] not to say anything to Doctor Pile about the offense or any of- fenses." App. 132. During the course of the examination, Dr. Pile did in fact ask petitioner both about the murder and about prior incidents of deviant sexual conduct. Tr. of State Habeas Hearing 19. Although petitioner initially declined to answer, he later stated that he had once torn the clothes off a girl on a school bus before deciding not to carry out his original plan to rape her. App. 44. That information, together with a tentative diagnosis of "Sociopathic Personality; Sexual Deviation (rape)," was forwarded to the trial court, with copies sent both to Mr. Pugh and to the prosecutor who was trying the case for the Commonwealth. Id., at 43-45. At no point prior to or during the interview did Dr. Pile inform petitioner that his statements might later be used against him or that he had the right to remain silent and to have counsel present if he so desired. Id., at 90. Cf. Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454, 101 S.Ct. 1866, 68 L.Ed.2d 359 (1981).

At the sentencing phase of the trial, the Commonwealth called Dr. Pile to the stand. Over the defense's objection, Dr. Pile described the incident on the school bus. Tr. 934-935. On cross-examination, he repeated his earlier conclusion that petitioner was a "sociopathic personality." Id., at 936. After examining a second psychiatrist, the Commonwealth introduced petitioner's criminal record into evidence. It revealed that he had been convicted of rape in 1973 and had been paroled from the penitentiary on that charge less than four months prior to raping and murdering Ms. Weiler. The defense then called 14 character witnesses, who testified that petitioner had been a regular churchgoer, a member of the choir, a conscientious student in high school, and a good soldier in Vietnam. After lengthy deliberation, the jury recommended that petitioner be sentenced to death.

Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence to the Supreme Court of Virginia. In his brief he raised 13 separate claims, including a broad challenge to the constitutionality of Virginia's death penalty provisions, objections to several of the trial court's evidentiary rulings, and a challenge to the exclusion of a prospective juror during voir dire. Petitioner did not, however, assign any error concerning the admission of Dr. Pile's testimony. At a subsequent state postconviction hearing, Mr. Pugh explained that he had consciously decided not to pursue that claim after determining that "Virginia case law would [not] support our position at that particular time." App. 143. Various objections to the Commonwealth's use of Dr. Pile's testimony were raised, however, in a brief filed by amicus curiae Post-Conviction Assistance Project of the University of Virginia Law School.

The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the conviction and sentence in all respects. Smith v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 248 S.E.2d 135 (1978). In a footnote, it noted that, pursuant to a rule of the court, it had considered only those arguments advanced by amicus that concerned errors specifically assigned by the defendant himself. Id., at 460, n. 1, 248 S.E.2d, at 139, n. 1. Accordingly, it did not address any issues concerning the prosecution's use of the psychiatric testimony. This Court denied the subsequent petition for certiorari, which, again, did not urge the claim that admission of Dr. Pile's testimony violated petitioner's rights under the Federal Constitution. 441 U.S. 967, 99 S.Ct. 2419, 60 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1979).

In 1979, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court for the City of Williamsburg and the County of James City. For the first time since the trial, he argued that the admission of Dr. Pile's testimony violated...

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