Barefoot v. Estelle

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Barefoot v. Estelle
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 26, 1983
Decided July 6, 1983
Full case name Thomas A. Barefoot, Petitioner v. W. J. Estelle, Jr., Director, Texas Department of Corrections, Respondent
Citations 463 U.S. 880 (more)
103 S. Ct. 3383; 77 L. Ed. 2d 1090; 1983 U.S. LEXIS 110; 51 U.S.L.W. 5189; 13 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 449
Holding
There is no merit to petitioner's argument that psychiatrists, individually and as a group, are incompetent to predict with an acceptable degree of reliability that a particular criminal will commit other crimes in the future, and so represent a danger to the community.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority White, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
Concurrence Stevens
Dissent Marshall, joined by Brennan
Dissent Blackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall (parts I, II, III, IV)

Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880 (1983), is a United States Supreme Court case. The Court ruled on the admissibility of clinical opinions given by two psychiatrists hired by the prosecution in answer to hypothetical questions regarding the defendant's future dangerousness and the likelihood that he would present a continuing threat to society in this Texas death penalty case. The American Psychiatric Association submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the defendant's position that such testimony should be inadmissible and urging curtailment of psychiatric testimony regarding future dangerousness and a prohibition of such testimony based on hypothetical data.[1][2]

In Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981), the Supreme Court previously ruled on a Texas death penalty case regarding the use of a psychiatric examination to determine the defendant's competency to stand trial to predict future dangerousness. In that case the Court held that the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination applied to pretrial psychiatric examinations by a prosecution psychiatrist who later testified regarding the defendant's future dangerousness without warning the defendant that such evidence could be used against him. The Court reasoned that although a defendant has no generalized constitutional right to remain silent at a psychiatric examination limited to the issues of sanity or competency, full Miranda warnings must be given with respect to testimony concerning future dangerousness.[1]

Background[edit]

Thomas Barefoot was convicted of the murder of a police officer. The same Texas jury determined, in the sentencing phase of the trial, whether Barefoot should receive the death penalty.

The Texas death-penalty statute required that the jury consider whether Barefoot would pose "future dangerousness".[3] Along with other evidence, the prosecution called two psychiatrists who, answering hypothetical questions, testified that Barefoot was likely to remain a danger to society. Neither psychiatrist had examined Barefoot nor asked to do so, but each summarized their professional experience as equipping them to answer the questions accurately. One psychiatrist called Barefoot a "criminal sociopath" and said there was no treatment for this condition and that Barefoot was likely to commit acts of violence in the future. The other psychiatrist testified that Barefoot had "a fairly classical, typical, sociopathic personality disorder." He placed Barefoot in the "most severe category" of sociopaths, and on a scale of one to ten, Barefoot was "above ten".[4] The jury considered this as well as other evidence and imposed the death penalty.[5]

The Court ignored amicus briefs arguing that psychiatric evidence cannot be offered on such issues with any reasonable degree of certainty.[1]

Appeals[edit]

Barefoot appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which rejected his argument that this use of psychiatric testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial was unconstitutional and upheld the conviction and sentence. After denials of a writ of certiorari and of habeas corpus, petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus in Federal District Court raising the same objections to the use of psychiatric testimony. Although the District Court rejected his claims and denied the writ, it did issue a certificate of probable cause. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a second writ of habeas corpus and denied a stay of execution. The Court of Appeals also denied a stay of execution.[5]

The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Supreme Court upheld the denial of a stay of execution by the Court of Appeals, saying that the Court of Appeals followed the procedural guidelines for handling such applications for stays of execution on habeas corpus appeals pursuant to a certificate of probable cause. The Court also upheld the appellate court's finding on the merits of the case, reasoning that that clinical prediction testimony was not in every case wrong and could be refuted by opposing experts, trusting the adversarial system to determine the accuracy of such statements.[6]

There is no merit to petitioner's argument that psychiatrists, individually and as a group, are incompetent to predict with an acceptable degree of reliability that a particular criminal will commit other crimes in the future, and so represent a danger to the community. ...Nor, despite the view of the American Psychiatric Association supporting petitioner's view, is there any convincing evidence that such testimony is almost entirely unreliable, and that the factfinder and the adversary system will not be competent to uncover, recognize, and take due account of its shortcomings.[5]

Subsequent developments[edit]

The Court's decision in this death penalty case was very important in influencing the legal opinion regarding psychiatric predictions of dangerousness, a position with which the American Psychiatric Association and other medical ethicists disagree, leading some experts to conclude that a psychiatrist making such statements verges on the brink of being a quack. Nevertheless, courts have been willing to accept such testimony despite the lack of empirical evidence that these predictions of future dangerousness are accurate.[6]

However, forensic experts state that psychiatric testimony on ultimate questions at law is unreliable due to the inherent limitations of current psychiatric clinical and experimental knowledge and practice.[2] Dr. James P. Grigson, one of the psychiatrists that testified in this case, was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Association of Psychiatric Physicians (TAPP) for making statements in testimony on defendants he had not examined. The TAPP said his expulsion was due not only to his replies to hypothetical questions but also for predicting dangerousness with 100% certainty.[7]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Brief Amicus Curiae - Thomas A. Barefoot, Petitioner v. W. J. Estelle, Jr., Director, Texas Department of Corrections, Respondent" (PDF). American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  2. ^ a b Bennett & Sullwold (April 1, 1985). "Qualifying the Psychiatrist as a Lay Witness: A Reaction to the American Psychiatric Association Petition in Barefoot v. Estelle". Journal of Forensic Sciences. Archived from the original on December 20, 2012. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  3. ^ Specifically, the statute required that the jury determine whether the defendant would pose "a continuing threat to society". By law, "society" includes within the prison system; thus, a defendant who could pose a risk to prison staff or other inmates would be eligible for the death penalty.
  4. ^ Unknown (n.d.). "Barefoot v. Estelle". Harvard.edu. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  5. ^ a b c "Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880 (1983)". supreme.justia.com. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  6. ^ a b Melton, Gary (1997). Psychological Evaluations for the Courts: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 282–283. ISBN 1-57230-236-4. 
  7. ^ Samuel J. Brakel & Alexander D. Brooks (April 2001). Law and Psychiatry in the Criminal Justice System. William S. Hein Publishing. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-8377-3025-7. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 

External links[edit]