Thomas v. Arn

LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 84-5630
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 140 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 07, 1985
DECIDED: Dec 04, 1985

Christopher Danahy Stanley - on behalf of the petitioner
Richard David Drake - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Thomas v. Arn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 1985 in Thomas v. Arn

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Thomas against the Superintendent of the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

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

Christopher Danahy Stanley:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, if it please the Court, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, it is an honor to appear before the Court.

I understand from the clerk that this is the 50th anniversary of the very first argument in this building, so I am doubly honored that I am appearing before the Court.

I would first express what I would consider my mea culpa.

I wish that I had filed objections in this case.

It would have prevented having to come up to the Supreme Court for the decision in this case.

It would have prevented a lot of time from having to be expended on this case.

However, I didn't, and I think that given the case law involved in this Court and the circuits that it wasn't necessary, and I would like to proceed with the argument.

A little history of the case.

My client was charged with murder in Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, where she was convicted.

On appeal, Judge Krensler, who is now a Federal District Court Judge in Cleveland, held that from the current psychological and sociological research has emerged a profile of a battered woman as one who displays unique behavioral patterns and psychological characteristics as well as differences in reaction and perception, all of which are not within the knowledge of the average juror.

He concluded that without expert testimony on the battered woman syndrome, a jury would be unable to have a sufficient comprehension of the defendant's state of mind at the time of the homicide.

The Ohio Supreme Court granted review of the case and reversed the reversal.

I then went to the Federal District Court Judge in Cleveland.

It was referred to a magistrate, who recommended that the petition for habeas corpus be denied.

The District Court Judge had a de novo determination.

Notwithstanding the failure to file objections, the Sixth Circuit, implementing what is now known as the Walters policy, held that by failing to object to the magistrate's report, one waives the right to appeal to the circuit from the District Court order.

I then petitioned for cert and this Court granted it.

There are basically four points I would like to make on argument today.

The first and most important one is the interplay between the magistrate's act and Article 3 of the United States constitution.

When our forefathers were setting up the new government after the Revolutionary War, they were very wary of putting all the governmental power, basically the legislative, executive, and judiciary, into the same hands.

Accordingly, they felt that it was necessary that there be an independent judiciary.

They wrote Article 3.

Article 3 basically says that there shall be a Supreme Court and such inferior courts as Congress may establish.

It also said that those courts were to be staffed by judges who have life tenure and a set salary.

I must admit that Article 3 at first blush seems a relatively simple statement of fact.

It spawned a great deal of litigation in this Court.

I do not pretend to understand Article 3 and the litigation it has spawned, particularly in such cases as Northern Pipeline.

However, with regard to the interplay between Article 3 and the Magistrates Act, this Court has quite clearly stated what the law is.