Estelle v. Smith

LOCATION: 1980 Democratic National Convention, Madison Square Garden

DOCKET NO.: 79-1127
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 451 US 454 (1981)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1980
DECIDED: May 18, 1981

Anita Ashton - on behalf of the Petitioner
Joel Berger - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Estelle v. Smith

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1980 in Estelle v. Smith

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Estelle v. Ernest Benjamin Smith.

Ms. Ashton, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Anita Ashton:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The State is here today to contend that the use of psychiatric testimony in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial is proper and is necessary to allow the jury to have all relevant information concerning the character of a defendant, especially when the jury is making this important determination as to life or death.

This testimony is used only after a finding of guilt in a capital murder trial.

It is not used for the purpose of incriminating the defendant or as to any issue of guilt for the offense.

It is merely as to determining his mental status at the time that he committed the crime and his mental status so that the jury may take that factor into consideration in making the determination of future dangerousness, which is one of the questions which the jury must answer under the Texas capital punishment statute.

Testimony of this type has been used in the State of Texas historically in murder prosecutions from the beginning of this century pursuant to Section 1906 of the Texas Penal Code.

In a murder prosecution both the State and the defendant may introduce all relevant evidence as to the defendant's mental status so that the jury may have this evidence before them in determining the appropriate punishment for a crime.

Potter Stewart:

Has Texas had a bifurcated proceeding since the beginning of this century?

Anita Ashton:

No, Your Honor, they have not but the statute has been carried over from the beginning.

Under the old "murder with malice" is when it was originated, when there was one proceeding, not a bifurcated proceeding.

But when the bifurcated proceedings--

Potter Stewart:

So until the present statute this kind of evidence went in to this jury that determined guilt?

Anita Ashton:

--No, Your Honor.

There was a bifurcated proceeding prior to this statute, beginning in 1965, the 1965 Code.

This particular statute of capital murder was enacted in 1973.

So during the period of time between 1965 and 1973 in all murder with malice trials this evidence wasn't.

Potter Stewart:

But from the beginning of the century until 1965?

Anita Ashton:

There was a single, a unitary trial, not a bifurcated trial.

Potter Stewart:

Therefore this sort of evidence that you said has traditionally been--

Anita Ashton:

Evidence as to mental status could be used as to guilt.

Potter Stewart:

--As to guilt?

Anita Ashton:

But it was admitted for the purposes of punishment under the statutory provisions.

Potter Stewart:

Were there any instructions?

Anita Ashton:

Yes, Your Honor, there were generally instructions.

Potter Stewart:

Limited to the determination of punishment?

Anita Ashton:


The mental status... depending on the way the issue was introduced for the defense, if they'd introduced it as--

Potter Stewart:

No, no.