MURRAY V. GIARRATANO, 492 U. S. 1 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Murray v. Giarratano, 492 U.S. 1 (1989)

Murray v. Giarratano

No. 88-411

Argued March 22, 1989

Decided June 23, 1989

492 U.S. 1


Respondents, a class of indigent Virginia death row inmates who do not have counsel to pursue postconviction proceedings, brought a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the District Court against various state officials, alleging that the Constitution required that they be provided with counsel at the State's expense for the purpose of pursuing collateral proceedings related to their convictions and sentences. The District Court concluded that respondents should receive greater assistance than that outlined in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U. S. 817 -- which held that a prisoner's "right of access" to the courts required a State to furnish access to adequate law libraries or other legal aid so the prisoners might' prepare petitions for judicial relief -- since death row inmates have a limited amount of time to prepare petitions, since their cases are unusually complex, and since the shadow of impending execution interferes with their ability to do legal work. It found that Virginia's efforts -- access to a law library or lawbooks, the availability of "unit attorneys," and appointment of counsel after a petition is filed -- did not afford prisoners meaningful access to the courts because they did not guarantee the prisoners continuous assistance of counsel. Thus, it ordered Virginia to develop a program for the appointment of counsel, upon request, to indigent death row inmates wishing to pursue habeas corpus in state court, but, in light of Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U. S. 600, not in federal court. The Court of Appeals affirmed. It viewed the lower court's special "considerations"

Page 492 U. S. 2

relating to death row inmates as findings of fact which were not clearly erroneous. It reasoned that the case was not controlled by Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U. S. 551 -- which held that neither the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment nor the equal protection guarantee of "meaningful access" required the State to appoint counsel for indigent prisoners seeking postconviction relief -- since Finley was not a "meaningful access" case, since it did not address the rule enunciated in Bounds, and since it did not involve the death penalty.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

847 F.2d 1118, reversed and remanded.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by JUSTICE WHITE, JUSTICE O'CONNOR, and JUSTICE SCALIA, concluded that neither the Eighth Amendment nor the Due Process Clause requires States to appoint counsel for indigent death row inmates seeking state postconviction relief. Pp. 492 U. S. 7-13.

(a) This Court's decisions require the conclusion that the rule of Pennsylvania v. Finley should apply no differently in capital cases than in noncapital cases. See, e.g., Smith v. Murray, 477 U. S. 527. State collateral proceedings are not constitutionally required as an adjunct to the state criminal proceeding, and serve a different and more limited purpose than either the trial or appeal. Eighth Amendment safeguards imposed at the trial stage -- where the court and jury hear testimony, receive evidence, and decide the question of guilt and punishment -- are sufficient to assure the reliability of the process by which the death penalty is imposed. Pp. 492 U. S. 7-10.

(b) There is no inconsistency whatever between the holdings in Bounds and Finley. The right of access at issue in Bounds rests on a constitutional theory considered in Finley. Extending Bounds would partially overrule the subsequently decided Finley and would' reject a categorical rule -- the usual tack taken in right to counsel cases -- for the adoption of a case-by-case determination based on "factual" findings, which, under a "clearly erroneous" standard, could result in different constitutional rules being applied in different States. Pp. 492 U. S. 10-13.

JUSTICE KENNEDY, joined by JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concluded that Virginia's scheme for securing representation for indigent death row inmates does not violate the Constitution. Although Virginia's procedures are not as far-reaching and effective as those available in other States, no Virginia death row inmates have been unable to obtain counsel to represent them in postconviction proceedings, and Virginia's prison system is staffed by institutional lawyers to assist inmates in such matters. Bounds' meaningful access requirement can be satisfied in various ways, and state legislatures and prison administrators must be

Page 492 U. S. 3

given "wide discretion" to select appropriate solutions from a range of complex options. Pp. 492 U. S. 14-15.

REHNQUIST, C.J.,announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 492 U. S. 13. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 492 U. S. 14. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 492 U. S. 15.

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