Gray v. Netherland

RESPONDENT: Netherland
LOCATION: Seminole Tribe

DOCKET NO.: 95-6510
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 518 US 152 (1996)
ARGUED: Apr 15, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1996

John H. McLees, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondent
Mark E. Olive - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Coleman Wayne Gray was tried for the murder of Richard McClelland in Virginia. The prosecution acknowledged that if the trial reached the capital penalty phase they would introduce Gray's admissions to other inmates that he had previously murdered 2 other people. Gray's attorney moved to exclude the evidence because Gray had not been officially charged with such crimes. Gray also claimed such evidence was a surprise tactic and that he could not pose the proper defense immediately. The Virginia trial court denied the motion to exclude. Subsequently, Gray was sentenced to death. After exhausting state remedies, Gray sough federal habeas corpus relief. He claimed that inadequate notice of evidence prevented him from a fair defense in the penalty phase of his capital trial in violation of his right to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court initially denied the petition because it found Gray had no constitutional right to notice of individual testimony. Later, the District Court amended its ruling, holding that Gray was denied due process when the state failed to provide notice of what murder evidence would be presented. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court. It found that to grant the habeas corpus relief would be to recognize a new federal constitutional law regarding notice-of-evidence claims.


Can a defendant sentenced to death argue in his habeas corpus petition that prosecutors deceived him, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, by producing surprise evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial?

Media for Gray v. Netherland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 15, 1996 in Gray v. Netherland

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 95-6510, Coleman Wayne Gray v. J. D. Netherland.

Mr. Olive.

Mr. Olive, the Respondents contend that the points you're raising here were never really raised in the supreme court of Virginia.

Sometime during your argument, would you address that?

Mark E. Olive:

Certainly, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Truth is discovered through fair process.

Truth is forever lost when an attorney in a case through capital sentencing proceedings, for example, utilizes tactics which violate moral standards of fair play.

In Coleman Gray's capital sentencing proceeding, the process was not fair, and the truth will be forever lost unless this Court reinstates the district court's judgment that the State may not mislead defense counsel regarding the determinative issues at trial.

The Commonwealth's position in this case before this Court is that you can mislead.

It's not disputed that there was misleading, and the answer to the misleading is, so what?

That doesn't matter.

The State can do that.

The Commonwealth did it, but you're no worse off as a result of it.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, I don't think the answer is that, so what?

I think the answer is, is that it's not clear that you asked for a continuance, or that that was the appropriate remedy.

As I read the colloquy in the trial court, both on the morning and the afternoon of the first day of the sentencing hearing, the discussion was on the Watkins case and whether or not this type of evidence is proper at all, and it's certainly open to interpretation that the attorney made a strategic choice not to ask for a continuance.

That way he could preserve the objection all the way through, and a continuance might have actually hurt him because the prosecution would have had even more time.

So that's my concern.

Mark E. Olive:

Let me address that, Your Honor, first with the comment that I've searched the respondent's brief and can't find in there the proposition that this did not happen, that the prosecutor did not mislead on day 1 and then progress in the misleading on the subsequent days.

But the part of the record which I'll be referring the Court to, of course, is December 2nd and December 6th, and there were three separate requests, Your Honor, at that... at those points in time for the State to identify what would be introduced under the preferred practice under Peterson.

When they got to the day where the Commonwealth came in and said, we've changed our mind, there was a discussion about Watkins, and the discussion about Watkins, from the point of view of defense counsel, Your Honor, was the comparison between Watkins and what was going on in this case.

And the specific point was made that in Watkins, where murders were introduced at capital sentencing, defense counsel in those cases, in that case was also defense counsel in the case that was being introduced, and there was a charge, and defense counsel knew, had notice of what the facts were involved in that case, and so the Watkins argument really was twofold.


Yes, this evidence is admissible, but in Watkins, it was admissible against an attorney and a defendant that were prepared.

The argument in this case, and making the contrast with Watkins, was specifically that... and I'll give the quote from the record, page 777, it was another... this is defense counsel in this case.

There was another murder that the defense counsel were actively participating in representing the defendant.

But contrast this case, page 780.

The defense in this case, Your Honor, was taken by surprise.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, am I correct that trial counsel objected to the admissibility of the Sorrels evidence regardless... on the independent ground that it was improper--