Murray v. Giarratano

RESPONDENT: Giarratano
LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

DOCKET NO.: 88-411
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 492 US 1 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1989

Gerald T. Zerkin - on behalf of the respondents
Robert Q. Harris - on behalf of the petitioners

Facts of the case

The respondents, a class of indigent Virginia death row inmates who did not have counsel to pursue post conviction proceedings, sued various state officials and argued that the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution required that they be provided with counsel at the state’s expense for the purpose of pursuing collateral proceedings related to their convictions and sentences. The district court found that Virginia’s policy of either allowing death row inmates time in the prison law library or permitting them to have law books in their cells did not do enough to satisfy Virginia’s obligation to provide them some form of relief. That court also found the availability of attorneys to assist inmates was inadequate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.


Are States required under the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to appoint counsel for indigent death row inmates seeking state post-conviction relief?

Media for Murray v. Giarratano

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1989 in Murray v. Giarratano

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument next in No. 85-411, Edward W. Murray versus Joseph M. Giarratano.

Mr. Harris, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert Q. Harris:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, two years ago in the case of Pennsylvania versus Finley, this Court said that there is no Constitutional obligation on the States to provide counsel for State prisoners in State collateral attacks on State court judgments.

Since 1983, in Barefoot v. Estelle, this Court has repeatedly held that the rules for collateral review of presumptively valid final judgments do not change depending on the nature of the sentence.

The decision of the court below, the Fourth Circuit, is flatly inconsistent with these decisions of this Court.

The issue before this Court is whether to affirm the judgement of the Fourth Circuit and in the process undermine or overrule prior decisions of this Court.

I will briefly address some of the facts in this case, and then explain why we ask this Court to reverse the decision below.

The plaintiffs in this case are inmates under sentence of death.

They have been tried and convicted of capital crimes in the State courts.

Their convictions have been upheld on a mandatory appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, a mandatory appeal that also includes a statutory requirement of sentence review.

They of course had counsel for trial, and on their mandatory appeal.

The focus here--

Harry A. Blackmun:

You are not thereby suggesting that Virginia is particularly gracious toward prisoners of this kind?

It is one of the tougher States in the Union, don't you think?

Robert Q. Harris:

--Your Honor, I am pointing out that Virginia meets the Constitutional requirements of counsel for the trials and direct appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Harry A. Blackmun:

That is your basic argument, that you are just within the Constitutional prerequisites?

Robert Q. Harris:

No, sir, it is not that argument at all.

We think that we exceed many of the Constitutional requirements in the process of the trial and the direct appeal, particularly in the sense that in a Virginia direct appeal, the Supreme Court is obligated to conduct that separate inquiry on the proportionality of the sentence, and the excessiveness of the sentence, to decide whether that sentence is appropriate even on direct appeal.

Harry A. Blackmun:

I am really suggesting that the Old Dominion is one of the tougher States in the Union.

Robert Q. Harris:

We try to be in some respects, Your Honor.

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Harris, in that direct review, does the State Supreme Court review the entire record in every case?

Robert Q. Harris:

The Virginia Supreme Court reviews the record on the errors of trial that are raised.

The Virginia Supreme Court conducts review of the entire record on the independent inquiry on the propriety of the sentence.

John Paul Stevens:

But not on the merits of the original case?

Robert Q. Harris:

It will review the errors that are raised by counsel.

John Paul Stevens:

It does not necessarily review the entire record on the appeal on the merits of the conviction, does it?

Robert Q. Harris:

That is correct, Your Honor.

But the focus in this case is not on the trial--

Harry A. Blackmun:

And is that not rather unusual among the States of this country?

Robert Q. Harris:

--As I understand it, practically every State has a rule isolating review to those claims that are raised by the parties.