Barefoot v. Estelle Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“Petitioner Barefoot was convicted of capital murder in a Texas state court after a jury trial. A separate sentencing hearing was then held before the same jury to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed. One of the questions submitted to the jury, as required by a Texas statute, was whether there was a probability that Barefoot would commit further criminal acts of violence and would constitute a continuing threat to society. In addition to introducing other evidence, the State called two psychiatrists, who, in response to hypothetical questions, testified that there was such a probability. The jury answered the question, as well as another question as to whether the killing had been deliberate, in the affirmative, thus requiring imposition of the death penalty. On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Barefoot’s contention that such use of psychiatric testimony at the sentencing hearing was unconstitutional, and affirmed the conviction and sentence. Ultimately, after Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a habeas corpus application, Barefoot filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court raising the same claims with respect to the use of psychiatric testimony. The district court rejected these claims and denied the writ, but issued a certificate of probable cause pursuant to, which provided that an appeal could not be taken to a court of appeals from the final order in a habeas corpus proceeding where the detention complained of arose out of process issued by a state court “unless the justice or judge who rendered the order or a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of probable cause.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again denied a habeas corpus application, as well as a stay of execution. Shortly thereafter, the federal court of appeals also denied a stay of execution pending appeal of the district court’s judgment.”


In Zadvydas v. Davis (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court said admitted immigrants could be detained for deportation for more than 90 days, but no longer than reasonably necessary. Did this ruling apply to inadmissible aliens, such as Benitez and Martinez?


“No, yes. Justice Byron R. White delivered the opinion of the 6-3 majority. The Supreme Court held that, in denying the stay of execution, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit necessarily examined the decision of the district court on the merits of the case. Although the Court of Appeals may not formally affirm the judgment of the lower court, the denial of the stay of execution serves the same purpose. The Court also held that the psychiatrists’ testimony did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights because the testimony falls under precedents that allow for predictions of future behavior to be considered relevant evidence in sentencing hearings. The reliability of such evidence should be weighed according to the rules of evidence by the fact-finder. The Court also held that the testimony of expert witnesses need not rely on personal examination and can be in the form of responses to hypothetical questions.Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment in which he argued that the Court of Appeals made procedural errors, but that the Supreme Court reviewed the case on the merits, and he concurred with the majority’s opinion as to the merits of the case.Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote a dissent in which he argued that a defendant must be afforded a hearing on the merits of his case when he petitions for a writ of habeas corpus unless the case can be dismissed as frivolous. Because a hearing on the merits can often be time-consuming, the Court of Appeals should have granted a stay of execution to allow enough time to properly consider the case. He also argued that death penalty jurisprudence placed an added emphasis on the importance of careful consideration, and the majority opinion’s suggestion of a summary approach goes against those precedents. He also cited his opinion that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. joined in the dissent. In his separate dissent, Justice Harry A. Blackmun argued that, while the possibly specious testimony of psychiatrists would be acceptable in a regular case, in a capital case a higher standard of reliability must be expected. Because unreliable scientific evidence is likely to prejudice the jury, it must be held to a stricter standard of accuracy than psychiatric testimony can be proven to meet. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. and Justice Thurgood Marshall joined in the dissent.”

Case Information

Citation: 463 US 880 (1983)
Argued: Apr 26, 1983
Decided: Jul 6, 1983
Granted: Jan 24, 1983
Case Brief: 1983