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ESTELLE V. SMITH, 451 U. S. 454 (1981)

U.S. Supreme Court

Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981)

Estelle v. Smith

No. 79-1127

Argued October 8, 1980

Decided May 18, 1981

451 U.S. 454


After respondent was indicted in Texas for murder, the State announced its intention to seek the death penalty. At an ensuing psychiatric examination, ordered by the trial court to determine respondent's competency to stand trial and conducted in the jail where he was being held, the examining doctor determined that respondent was competent. Thereafter, respondent was tried by a jury and convicted. A separate sentencing proceeding was then held before the same jury, as required by Texas law. At such a proceeding, the jury must resolve three critical issues to determine whether or not the death sentence will be imposed. One of these issues involves the future dangerousness of the defendant, i.e., whether there is a probability that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. At the sentencing hearing, the doctor who had conducted the pretrial psychiatric examination was allowed to testify for the State over defense counsels' objection that his name did not appear on the list of witnesses the State planned to use at either the guilt or penalty stages of the proceedings. His testimony was based on the pretrial examination, and stated in substance that respondent would be a danger to society. The jury then resolved the issue of future dangerousness, as well as the other two issues, against respondent, and thus, under Texas law, the death penalty was mandatory. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence. After unsuccessfully seeking a writ of habeas corpus in the state courts, respondent petitioned for such relief in Federal District Court. That court vacated the death sentence because it found constitutional error in admitting the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The admission of the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase violated respondent's Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination, because he was not advised before the pretrial psychiatric examination that he had a right to remain silent and that any statement he made could be used against him at a capital sentencing proceeding. Pp. 451 U. S. 461-469.

(a) There is no basis for distinguishing between the guilt and penalty

Page 451 U. S. 455

phases of respondent's trial so far as the protection of the Fifth Amendment privilege is concerned. The State's attempt to establish respondent's future dangerousness by relying on the unwarned statements he made to the examining doctor infringed the Fifth Amendment just as much as would have any effort to compel respondent to testify against his will at the sentencing hearing. Pp. 451 U. S. 462-463.

(b) The Fifth Amendment privilege is directly involved here because the State used as evidence against respondent the substance of his disclosures during the pretrial psychiatric examination. The fact that respondent's statements were made in the context of such an examination does not automatically remove them from the reach of that Amendment. Pp. 451 U. S. 463-466.

(c) The considerations calling for the accused to be warned prior to custodial interrogation apply with no less force to the pretrial psychiatric examination at issue here. An accused who neither initiates a psychiatric evaluation nor attempts to introduce any psychiatric evidence may not be compelled to respond to a psychiatrist if his statements can be used against him at a capital sentencing proceeding. When faced while in custody with a court-ordered psychiatric inquiry, respondent's statements to the doctor were not "given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influences" and, as such, could be used as the State did at the penalty phase only if respondent had been apprised of his rights and had knowingly decided to waive them. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 384 U. S. 478. Since these safeguards of the Fifth Amendment privilege were not afforded respondent, his death sentence cannot stand. Pp. 451 U. S. 466-469.

2. Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel also was violated by the State's introduction of the doctor's testimony at the penalty phase. Such right already had attached when the doctor examined respondent in jail, and that interview proved to be a "critical stage" of the aggregate proceedings against respondent. Defense counsel were not notified in advance that the psychiatric examination would encompass the issue of their client's future dangerousness, and respondent was denied the assistance of his counsel in making the significant decision of whether to submit to the examination and to what end the psychiatrist's findings could be employed. Pp. 451 U. S. 469-471.

602 F.2d 694, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-C of which MARSHALL, J., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 451 U. S. 474. MARSHALL, J., filed a statement concurring in part,

Page 451 U. S. 456

post, p. 451 U. S. 474. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 451 U. S. 474. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 451 U. S. 474.

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