Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990)

Whitmore v. Arkansas

No. 88-7146

Argued Jan. 10, 1990
Decided April 24, 1990
495 U.S. 149



After his trial on multiple murder charges, Ronald Simmons waived his right to direct appeal of his conviction and death sentence. The trial court conducted a hearing and determined that Simmons was competent to waive further proceedings. Pursuant to its rule that Arkansas law does not require a mandatory appeal in all death penalty cases, but that a defendant can 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, the State Supreme Court reviewed the competency determination and affirmed the trial court’s decision that Simmons had knowingly and intelligently waived the right to appeal. The court then denied the motion of petitioner Whitmore -- a death row inmate convicted in a robbery-murder case, who had exhausted his direct appellate review, been denied state post-conviction relief, and not yet sought federal habeas corpus relief -- to intervene in the proceeding both individually and as Simmons’ "next friend," concluding that Whitmore lacked standing. This Court granted Whitmore’s petition for certiorari on the questions 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, and whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the State from carrying out a death sentence without first conducting a mandatory appellate review of the conviction and sentence.

Held: Whitmore lacks standing to proceed in this Court. Pp. 154-166.

(a) Before a federal court can consider the merits of a legal claim, the person seeking to invoke the court’s jurisdiction must establish the requisite standing to sue. To do so, he must prove the existence of an Art. III case or controversy by clearly demonstrating that he has suffered an "injury in fact," which is concrete in both a qualitative and temporal sense. He must show 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 Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38, 41. Pp. 154-156.

(b) Whitmore does not have standing in his individual capacity based on a legal right to a system of mandatory appellate review assertedly granted to him personally and to Simmons by the Eighth Amendment. His principal claim of injury in fact -- that if he obtains federal habeas relief but is convicted and resentenced to death in a new trial, then, in light of Arkansas’ comparative review in death penalty cases, 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 Simmons’ heinous crimes -- is too speculative to invoke Art. III jurisdiction. Even assuming that Whitmore would eventually secure habeas relief and be convicted and resentenced to death, there is no factual basis on which to conclude that the sentence imposed on a mass murderer would be relevant to a future comparative review of his robbery-murder sentence. His theory is at least as speculative as other allegations of possible future injury that have been found insufficient to establish Art. III injury-in-fact. See, e.g., O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488. United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, distinguished. Whitmore’s further contention that, as an Arkansas citizen, he is entitled to the Eighth Amendment’s public interest protections and has a right to invoke this Court’s jurisdiction to insure that the State does not carry out an execution without mandatory appellate review raises only the generalized interest of all citizens in constitutional governance, and is an inadequate basis on which to grant him standing. Nor does the uniqueness of the death penalty and society’s interest in its proper imposition justify creating an exception to traditional standing doctrine, since the requirement of an Art. III case or controversy is not merely a traditional "rule of practice," but rather is imposed directly by the Constitution. Pp. 156-161.

(c) Whitmore’s alternative argument that he has standing as Simmons’ "next friend" is also rejected. The scope of any federal "next friend" standing doctrine, assuming that one exists absent congressional authorization, is no broader than the "next friend" standing permitted under the federal habeas corpus statute. Thus, one necessary condition is a showing by the proposed "next friend" that the real party in interest is unable to litigate his own cause due to mental incapacity, lack of access to court, or other similar disability. That prerequisite is not satisfied where, as here, an evidentiary hearing shows that the defendant has given a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his right to proceed, and his access to court is otherwise unimpeded. Pp. 161-166.

298 Ark. 193 and 255, 766 S.W.2d 422 and 423, certiorari dismissed.

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.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990) in 495 U.S. 149 495 U.S. 150–495 U.S. 151. Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8MLLAS8XJG1DE3.

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990), in 495 U.S. 149, pp. 495 U.S. 150–495 U.S. 151. Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8MLLAS8XJG1DE3.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990). cited in 1990, 495 U.S. 149, pp.495 U.S. 150–495 U.S. 151. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8MLLAS8XJG1DE3.