Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 88-7146 110 S. Ct. 1717, 495 U.S. 149, 109 L. Ed. 2d 135, 1990.SCT.42162 <> decided: April 24, 1990. WHITMORE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF SIMMONSv.ARKANSAS ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS. Arthur L. Allen, by appointment of the Court, 493 U.S. 804, argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner. J. Steven Clark, Attorney General of Arkansas, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief for respondent State of Arkansas was Clint Miller, Assistant Attorney General. John Harris filed a brief for respondent Simmons.*fn* Rehnquist, C.j., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Blackmun, Stevens, O'connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, J., joined, post, p. 166. Author: Rehnquist


Rehnquist, C.j., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Blackmun, Stevens, O'connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, J., joined, post, p. 166.

Author: Rehnquist

 CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a third party has standing to challenge the validity of a death sentence imposed on a capital defendant who has elected to forgo his right of appeal to the State Supreme Court. Petitioner Jonas Whitmore contends that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prevent the State of Arkansas from carrying out the death sentence imposed on Ronald Gene Simmons without first conducting a mandatory appellate review of Simmons' conviction and sentence. We hold that petitioner lacks standing, and therefore dismiss the writ of certiorari.


On December 28, 1987, Ronald Gene Simmons shot and killed two people and wounded three others in the course of a rampage through the town of Russellville, Arkansas. After police apprehended Simmons, they searched his home in nearby Dover, Arkansas, and discovered the bodies of 14 members of Simmons' family, all of whom had been murdered. The State filed two sets of criminal charges against Simmons, one based on the two Russellville murders and the other covering the deaths of his family members.

Simmons was first tried for the Russellville crimes, and a jury convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. After being sentenced, Simmons made this statement under oath: "'I, Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., want it to be known that it is my wish and my desire that absolutely no action by anybody be taken to appeal or in any way change this sentence. It is further respectfully requested that this sentence be carried out expeditiously.'" See Franz v. State, 296 Ark. 181, 183, 754 S.W. 2d 839, 840 (1988). The trial court conducted a hearing concerning Simmons' competence to waive further proceedings, and concluded that his decision was knowing and intelligent.

As Simmons' execution date approached Louis J. Franz, a Catholic priest who counsels inmates at the Arkansas Department of Corrections, petitioned the Supreme Court of Arkansas for permission to proceed as Simmons' "next friend" and to prosecute an appeal on his behalf. The court held that Franz did not have standing as "next friend," because he had not alleged facts showing that he had ever met Simmons, much less that he had a close relationship with the defendant. It also rejected both his argument for standing under the Arkansas Constitution as an aggrieved taxpayer and his assertion that he should have standing as a concerned citizen to prevent an important legal issue from going unresolved at the appellate level.

In dicta, the court went on to state that Arkansas law does not require a mandatory appeal in all death penalty cases. It did note, however, that a defendant sentenced to death in Arkansas will be able to forgo his direct appeal "only if he has been judicially determined to have the capacity to understand the choice between life and death and to knowingly and intelligently waive any and all rights to appeal his sentence." Id., at 189, 754 S.W. 2d, at 843. After reviewing the record of the trial court's competency hearing, the Supreme Court held that Simmons had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to appeal. Franz and another Arkansas death row inmate, Darrel Wayne Hill, then applied in Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus to prevent Simmons' execution, but the petition was denied on the ground that Franz and Hill did not have standing. Franz v. Lockhart, 700 F. Supp. 1005 (ED Ark. 1988), appeal pending, No. 89-1485EA (CA8).

The State subsequently tried Simmons for the murder of his 14 family members, and on February 10, 1989, a jury convicted him of capital murder and imposed a sentence of death by lethal injection. Simmons again notified the trial court of his desire to waive his right to direct appeal, and after a hearing, the court found Simmons competent to do so. The Supreme Court of Arkansas, pursuant to the rule established in Franz, reviewed the competency determination and affirmed the trial court's decision that Simmons had knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal. Simmons v. State, 298 Ark. 193, 766 S.W. 2d 422 (1989). The court commended the trial court and Simmons' counsel for doing "an exceptional job in examining and exploring [Simmons'] capacity to understand the choice between life and death and his ability to know and to intelligently waive any and all right he might have in an appeal of his sentence." Id., at 194, 766 S.W. 2d, at 423. The court also noted that Simmons' counsel "thoroughly discussed seven possible points that could be argued for reversal on appeal" and that Simmons acknowledged those points but "rejected all encouragement and suggestions to appeal." Ibid.

Three days later, petitioner Jonas Whitmore, another death row inmate in Arkansas, sought permission from the Supreme Court of Arkansas to intervene in Simmons' proceeding both individually and "as next friend of Ronald Gene Simmons." The court concluded that Whitmore had failed to show he had standing to intervene, and it denied the motion. Simmons v. State, 298 Ark. 255, 766 S.W. 2d 423 (1989). Whitmore then asked this Court to stay Simmons' execution, which was scheduled for March 16, 1989. We granted a stay pending the filing and disposition of a petition for certiorari, 489 U.S. 1073 (1989), and later granted Whitmore's petition for certiorari. 492 U.S. 917 (1989).



This is not the first time we have encountered a third party seeking to prevent the execution of a capital defendant who has decided to forgo further judicial proceedings. In Gilmore v. Utah, 429 U.S. 1012 (1976), we considered an application for a stay of the execution of Gary Mark Gilmore, filed by his mother Bessie Gilmore after the defendant declined to request relief. A majority of the Court concluded that Gilmore had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of any federal rights available to him and, accordingly, allowed the execution to go forward. Four Members of the Court, however, felt that the standing and other constitutional issues raised by the application were substantial and would have given the matter plenary consideration. Since Gilmore, we have been presented with other applications from third parties for stays of execution, see Lenhard v. Wolff, 443 U.S. 1306, stay of execution denied, 444 U.S. 807 (1979); Evans v. Bennett, 440 U.S. 1301, stay of execution denied, 440 U.S. 987 (1979), but until the present case, we have not requested full briefing and argument and issued an opinion of the Court on this recurring issue.

Petitioner Whitmore asks this Court to hold that despite Simmons' failure to appeal, the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require the State of Arkansas to conduct an appellate review of his conviction and sentence before it can proceed to execute him. It is well established, however, that before a federal court can consider the merits of a legal claim, the person seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the court must establish the requisite standing to sue. Article III, of course, gives the federal courts jurisdiction over only "cases and controversies," and the doctrine of standing serves to identify those disputes which are appropriately resolved through the judicial process. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471-476 (1982). Our threshold inquiry into standing "in no way depends on the merits of the [petitioner's] contention that particular conduct is illegal," Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 500 (1975), and we thus put aside for now Whitmore's Eighth Amendment challenge and consider whether he has established the existence of a "case or controversy."

Although we have acknowledged before that "the concept of 'Art. III standing' has not been defined with complete consistency in all of the various cases decided by this Court which have discussed it," Valley Forge, supra, at 475, certain basic principles have been distilled from our decisions. To establish an Art. III case or controversy, a litigant first must clearly demonstrate that he has suffered an "injury in fact." That injury, we have emphasized repeatedly, must be concrete in both a qualitative and temporal sense. The complainant must allege an injury to himself that is "distinct and palpable," Warth, supra, at 501, as opposed to merely "[a]bstract," O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 494 (1974), and the alleged harm must be actual or imminent, not "conjectural" or "hypothetical." Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101-102 (1983). Further, the litigant must satisfy the "causation" and "redressability" prongs of the Art. III minima by showing that the injury "fairly can be traced to the challenged action" and "is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision." Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 38, 41 (1976); Valley Forge, supra, at 472. The litigant must clearly and specifically set forth facts sufficient to satisfy these Art. III standing requirements. A federal court is powerless to create its own jurisdiction by embellishing otherwise deficient allegations of standing. See Warth, supra, at 508, 518.*fn1


As we understand Whitmore's claim of standing in his individual capacity, he alleges that the State has infringed rights that the Eighth Amendment grants to him personally and to the subject of the impending execution, Simmons. He therefore rests his claim to relief both on his own asserted legal right to a system of mandatory appellate review and on Simmons' similar right. Under either theory, Whitmore must establish Art. III standing, see Secretary of State of Md. v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. 947, 956 (1984); Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 112 (1976), and we find that his allegations fall short of doing so.

Whitmore's principal claim of injury in fact is that Arkansas has established a system of comparative review in death penalty cases, and that he has "a direct and substantial interest in having the data base against which his crime is compared to be complete and to not be arbitrarily skewed by the omission of any other capital case." Brief for Petitioner 21. Although he has already been convicted of murder and sentenced to death, has exhausted his direct appellate review, see Whitmore v. State, 296 Ark. 308, 756 S.W. 2d 890 (1988), and has been denied state post-conviction relief, Whitmore v. State, 299 Ark. 55, 771 S.W. 2d 266 (1989), petitioner suggests that he might in the future obtain federal habeas corpus relief that would entitle him to a new trial. If, in that new trial, Whitmore is again convicted and sentenced to death, he would once more seek review of the sentence by the Supreme Court of Arkansas; that court would compare Whitmore's case with other capital cases to insure that the death penalty is not freakishly or arbitrarily applied in Arkansas. Petitioner asserts that he would ultimately be injured by the State Supreme Court's ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.