Whitmore v. Arkansas, No. 88-7146

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN
Citation495 U.S. 149,110 S.Ct. 1717,109 L.Ed.2d 135
Docket NumberNo. 88-7146
Decision Date24 April 1990
PartiesJonas H. WHITMORE, Individually and as Next Friend of Ronald Gene Simmons, Petitioner v. ARKANSAS et al

495 U.S. 149
110 S.Ct. 1717
109 L.Ed.2d 135
Jonas H. WHITMORE, Individually and as Next Friend of Ronald Gene Simmons, Petitioner

v.

ARKANSAS et al.

No. 88-7146.
Argued Jan. 10, 1990.
Decided April 24, 1990.
Syllabus

After his trial on multiple murder charges, Ronald Simmons waived his right to direct appeal of his conviction and death sentence. The trial court conducted a hearing and determined that Simmons was competent to waive further proceedings. Pursuant to its rule that Arkansas law does not require a mandatory appeal in all death penalty cases, but that a defendant can forgo his direct appeal only if he has been judicially determined to have the capacity to understand the choice between life and death and to knowingly and intelligently waive any and all rights to appeal his sentence, the State Supreme Court reviewed the competency determination and affirmed the trial court's decision that Simmons had knowingly and intelligently waived the right to appeal. The court then denied the motion of petitioner Whitmore—a death-row inmate convicted in a robbery-murder case, who had exhausted his direct appellate review, been denied state postconviction relief, and not yet sought federal habeas corpus relief—to intervene in the proceeding both individually and as Simmons' "next friend," concluding that Whitmore lacked standing. This Court granted Whitmore's petition for certiorari on the questions whether a third party has standing to challenge the validity of a death sentence imposed on a capital defendant who has elected to forgo his right of appeal, and whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the State from carrying out a death sentence without first conducting a mandatory appellate review of the conviction and sentence.

Held: Whitmore lacks standing to proceed in this Court. Pp. 154-166.

(a) Before a federal court can consider the merits of a legal claim, the person seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction must establish the requisite standing to sue. To do so, he must prove the existence of an Art. III case or controversy by clearly demonstrating that he has suffered an "injury in fact," which is concrete in both a qualitative and temporal sense. He must show that the injury "fairly can be traced to the challenged action," and "is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision." Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 38, 41, 96 S.Ct. 1917, 1924, 1926, 48 L.Ed.2d 450. Pp. 154-156.

(b) Whitmore does not have standing in his individual capacity based on a legal right to a system of mandatory appellate review assertedly granted to him personally and to Simmons by the Eighth Amendment.

Page 150

His principal claim of injury in fact—that if he obtains federal habeas relief but is convicted and resentenced to death in a new trial, then, in light of Arkansas' comparative review in death penalty cases, he has a direct and substantial interest in having the data base against which his crime is compared to be complete and to not be arbitrarily skewed by the omission of Simmons' heinous crimes—is too speculative to invoke Art. III jurisdiction. Even assuming that Whitmore would eventually secure habeas relief and be convicted and resentenced to death, there is no factual basis on which to conclude that the sentence imposed on a mass murderer would be relevant to a future comparative review of his robbery-murder sentence. His theory is at least as speculative as other allegations of possible future injury that have been found insufficient to establish Art. III injury in fact. See, e.g., O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674. United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, 93 S.Ct. 2405, 37 L.Ed.2d 254, distinguished. Whitmore's further contention that, as an Arkansas citizen, he is entitled to the Eighth Amendment's public interest protections and has a right to invoke this Court's jurisdiction to insure that the State does not carry out an execution without mandatory appellate review raises only the generalized interest of all citizens in constitutional governance and is an inadequate basis on which to grant him standing. Nor does the uniqueness of the death penalty and society's interest in its proper imposition justify creating an exception to traditional standing doctrine, since the requirement of an Art. III case or controversy is not merely a traditional "rule of practice," but rather is imposed directly by the Constitution. Pp. 156-161.

(c) Whitmore's alternative argument that he has standing as Simmons' "next friend" is also rejected. The scope of any federal "next friend" standing doctrine, assuming that one exists absent congressional authorization, is no broader than the "next friend" standing permitted under the federal habeas corpus statute. Thus, one necessary condition is a showing by the proposed "next friend" that the real party in interest is unable to litigate his own cause due to mental incapacity, lack of access to court, or other similar disability. That prerequisite is not satisfied where, as here, an evidentiary hearing shows that the defendant has given a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his right to proceed, and his access to court is otherwise unimpeded. Pp. 161-166.

298 Ark. 193 and 255, 766 S.W.2d 422 and 423, certiorari dismissed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 166.

Page 151

Arthur L. Allen, Little Rock, Ark., for petitioner.

J. Steven Clark for respondents.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a third party has standing to challenge the validity of a death sentence imposed on a capital defendant who has elected to forgo his right of appeal to the State Supreme Court. Petitioner Jonas Whitmore contends that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prevent the State of Arkansas from carrying out the death sentence imposed on Ronald Gene Simmons without first conducting a mandatory appellate review of Simmons' conviction and sentence. We hold that petitioner lacks standing, and therefore dismiss the writ of certiorari.

I

On December 28, 1987, Ronald Gene Simmons shot and killed two people and wounded three others in the course of a rampage through the town of Russellville, Arkansas. After police apprehended Simmons, they searched his home in nearby Dover, Arkansas, and discovered the bodies of 14 members of Simmons' family, all of whom had been murdered. The State filed two sets of criminal charges against

Page 152

Simmons, one based on the two Russellville murders and the other covering the deaths of his family members.

Simmons was first tried for the Russellville crimes, and a jury convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. After being sentenced, Simmons made this statement under oath: " 'I, Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., want it to be known that it is my wish and my desire that absolutely no action by anybody be taken to appeal or in any way change this sentence. It is further respectfully requested that this sentence be carried out expeditiously.' " See Franz v. State, 296 Ark. 181, 183, 754 S.W.2d 839, 840 (1988). The trial court conducted a hearing concerning Simmons' competence to waive further proceedings, and concluded that his decision was knowing and intelligent.

As Simmons' execution date approached Louis J. Franz, a Catholic priest who counsels inmates at the Arkansas Department of Corrections, petitioned the Supreme Court of Arkansas for permission to proceed as Simmons' "next friend" and to prosecute an appeal on his behalf. The court held that Franz did not have standing as "next friend," because he had not alleged facts showing that he had ever met Simmons, much less that he had a close relationship with the defendant. It also rejected both his argument for standing under the Arkansas Constitution as an aggrieved taxpayer and his assertion that he should have standing as a concerned citizen to prevent an important legal issue from going unresolved at the appellate level.

In dicta, the court went on to state that Arkansas law does not require a mandatory appeal in all death penalty cases. It did note, however, that a defendant sentenced to death in Arkansas will be able to forgo his direct appeal "only if he has been judicially determined to have the capacity to understand the choice between life and death and to knowingly and intelligently waive any and all rights to appeal his sentence." Id., at 189, 754 S.W.2d, at 843. After reviewing the record of the trial court's competency hearing, the Supreme Court

Page 153

held that Simmons had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to appeal. Franz and another Arkansas death row inmate, Darrel Wayne Hill, then applied in Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus to prevent Simmons' execution, but the petition was denied on the ground that Franz and Hill did not have standing. Franz v. Lockhart, 700 F.Supp. 1005 (ED Ark.1988), appeal pending, No. 89-1485EA (CA8).

The State subsequently tried Simmons for the murder of his 14 family members, and on February 10, 1989, a jury convicted him of capital murder and imposed a sentence of death by lethal injection. Simmons again notified the trial court of his desire to waive his right to direct appeal, and after a hearing, the court found Simmons competent to do so. The Supreme Court of Arkansas, pursuant to the rule established in Franz, reviewed the competency determination and affirmed the trial court's decision that Simmons had knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal. Simmons v. State, 298 Ark. 193, 766 S.W.2d 422 (1989). The court commended the trial court and Simmons' counsel for doing "an exceptional job in examining and exploring [Simmons'] capacity to understand the choice...

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