Law School Case Brief
Barefoot v. Estelle - 463 U.S. 880, 103 S. Ct. 3383 (1983)
In requiring a question of some substance or a substantial showing of the denial of a federal right, the petitioner need not show that he should prevail on the merits. He has already failed in that endeavor. Rather, he must demonstrate that the issues are debatable among jurists of reason; that a court could resolve the issues in a different manner; or that the questions are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.
Petitioner Barefoot was convicted of capital murder in a Texas state court after a jury trial. A separate sentencing hearing was then held before the same jury to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed. One of the questions submitted to the jury, as required by a Texas statute, was whether there was a probability that Barefoot would commit further criminal acts of violence and would constitute a continuing threat to society. In addition to introducing other evidence, the State called two psychiatrists, who, in response to hypothetical questions, testified that there was such a probability. The jury answered the question, as well as another question as to whether the killing had been deliberate, in the affirmative, thus requiring imposition of the death penalty. On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Barefoot's contention that such use of psychiatric testimony at the sentencing hearing was unconstitutional, and affirmed the conviction and sentence. Ultimately, after Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a habeas corpus application, Barefoot filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court raising the same claims with respect to the use of psychiatric testimony. The district court rejected these claims and denied the writ, but issued a certificate of probable cause pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 2253, which provided that an appeal could not be taken to a court of appeals from the final order in a habeas corpus proceeding where the detention complained of arose out of process issued by a state court "unless the justice or judge who rendered the order or a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of probable cause." The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again denied a habeas corpus application, as well as a stay of execution. Shortly thereafter, the federal court of appeals also denied a stay of execution pending appeal of the district court's judgment.
Was the denial of the habeas corpus application and stay of execution proper?
The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court's judgment, which denied petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief and denied his motion for a stay of execution. The Court determined that nothing prevented the appellate court from considering the merits of Barefoot's habeas corpus motion and probable cause together. The Court held that the appellate court ruled on the merits of the appeal. The Court reasoned that if it was not impossible even for a lay person to sensibly arrive at the conclusion reached by psychiatrists, it made little sense that psychiatrists would know so little that they should not be permitted to testify. The Court held that Barefoot's claim raised the issue of the weight of the testimony, not its admissibility.
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