Darden v. Wainwright

PETITIONER: Willie Jasper Darden
RESPONDENT: Louie L. Wainwright, Secretary of Department of Offender Rehabilitation, State of Florida
LOCATION: Court in Ouachita County

DOCKET NO.: 85-5319
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 168 (1986)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1986

Robert A. Harper, Jr. - on behalf of the petitioner
Richard W. Prospect - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Darden v. Wainwright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1986 in Darden v. Wainwright

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Darden against Wainwright.

Mr. Harper, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert A. Harper, Jr.:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the prosecutor's closing argument in the Willie Jasper Darden prosecution during the final summary has been variously described as bad, as unfair, as harmful, as prejudicial, as egregious, but there is one word only that is sufficient to describe this argument in this case, and that is reversal.

The question then arises as to why the case hasn't been reversed and why is it here.

And the simple answer is, the Eleventh Circuit has not and did not apply the appropriate standard announced in Caldwell versus Mississippi.

On the same date that the Darden case came down en banc from the Eleventh Circuit, July the 23rd, 1985, that court decided Tucker versus Kemp, Brooks v. Kemp, and William Tucker versus Kemp.

The Tucker case has been vacated and remanded under the Caldwell decision.

We raised Caldwell in the petition for rehearing which was denied... that opinion is found in the joint appendix at 395... when less than a majority of the court voted in favor of the petition for rehearing.

The Eleventh Circuit is squarely faced and apparently rejected the Caldwell standard, and we would submit that in view of the dissents, two dissents in the en banc opinion on the 27th of August, that a remand would be inaccurate, and that an outright reversal is required.

This argument is so bad it has been universally condemned.

It is so bad, as the District Judge noted, even the state has not even weakly asserted anything but that it is improper.

The reviewing courts, each and every one, starting with the Supreme Court of Florida, found that the prosecutor's remarks under ordinary circumstances would constitute a violation of the code of professional responsibility.

Two Justices of the Florida Supreme Court, former Chief Justices each, described the remarks, as vituperative personal remarks upon the accused and appeals to passions and prejudice.

The magistrate who heard the evidence at the evidentiary hearing below was

"convinced that the jury deliberation was substantially influenced by the prejudicial argument. "

The Eleventh... excuse me.

The United States District Judge who had a de novo hearing on the issue said no one even weakly suggested that the prosecutors' closing remarks were anything but improper.

The Eleventh Circuit said that anyone attempting a textbook illustration of a violation of the code of professional responsibility could not possibly improve upon the example provided by the prosecution during Darden's trial.

We submit that this case would be universally applauded by the organized bar, and no concept should be indulged to deflect from the fact that the sentencer in this capital case was diverted from his truthfinding function.

The purpose of the Code of Professional Responsibility is universally accepted by every practicing attorney and judge.

The purpose of the rules is to protect the due process rights to a fair trial.

These standards are objective, and we submit that these standards are the litmus against which this prosecutor's argument should be tested, and we submit that this test in the search for the ever elusive concept called justice would require that this trial, these proceedings be reversed.

Against this test, every reviewing court, all the parties in the litigation concede that the argument is improper.

The only problem is, the standard appropriate in this instance has not been applied.

The argument itself comprises 44 pages in which 27 improper arguments are interjected.

There are ten attacks on the credibility of the criminal justice system itself, attacks on the Department of Corrections, attacks on the parole people for turning this man loose, and the like, nine instances of personal opinion, two instances of bolstering the argument, two outright misstatements, one interjection of race, and one attack on specific... well, actually two attacks on specific rights.

In the order that they occur, the arguments start off with entreaties to the effect,

"It could have been you, members of the jury, who had been murdered. "

arguments that I am convinced--