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Ohio Adult Parole Authority v. Woodard

A Protected Life Interest On Death Row

In 1990, Eugene Woodard was convicted in Ohio of aggravated murder and sentenced to die on 7 October 1994. In 1993 and 1994, his conviction and his death sentence were affirmed by the Ohio Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in 1994. The Ohio Supreme Court, however, on 24 August 1994 stayed the execution date so that Woodard could seek post-conviction relief. APA regulations required that clemency hearings must be scheduled 45 days prior to the execution. Because the Ohio Supreme Court's stay was granted less than 45 days before execution, however, Woodard's clemency review and his post-conviction litigation were to continue concurrently. The APA notified Woodard two weeks after his stay was granted that his clemency hearing had been scheduled in ten days, on 16 September 1994. The APA also informed Woodard that he could have a pre-hearing interview on 9 September 1994. Woodard protested the short notice. Because he also had post-conviction litigation in process, he requested, contrary to APA regulations, that his lawyer be present at both the interview and hearing. His request was denied, and Woodard filed suit in the U.S. District Court disputing the constitutionality of the APA's clemency process. He claimed that the process breached both his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

The case later went before the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court stated that Woodard had failed to establish " . . . out of the clemency proceeding itself . . . a protected life or liberty interest." It did find, however, that the Fourteenth Amendment protected his "original" life and liberty interest when the clemency process was regarded as part of the "entire punitive scheme." The court held that at any particular stage of this scheme, the amount of process due was proportional to how integral that stage was to the entire judicial process. Because the clemency process, the court said, "was far removed from trial, the process due could be minimal." The court then remanded the decision on what the actual process should be to the district court. The court, in conclusion, agreed with Woodard's claim that the process violated his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. It held that the interview procedure presented him with a choice between asserting that right and taking part in the clemency procedure. This choice, it said, might well give rise to an unconstitutional situation.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, or ordered the lower court to forward the record of its proceedings for review, to consider the case's constitutional implications more closely. The Court had two issues before it, each dealing with how the Constitution limits state clemency procedures. The first was whether or not an inmate has a constitutionally-protected life or liberty interest in those procedures. The second issue was whether the option given inmates to voluntarily participate in a clemency interview violates that inmate's Fifth Amendment right to silence.

On the first question Chief Justice Rehnquist, delivering the Court's opinion, responded to Woodard's argument that inmates preserve an original, or pretrial, life interest which continues until the moment of execution and requires due process until then. Justice Rehnquist rested his response on the Supreme Court's reasoning in the Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat (1981) case. In that case, the Court held that an inmate had

no constitutional or inherent right to commutation of his sentence . . . [because] the individual's interest in release or commutation [of his sentence had] already been extinguished by the conviction and sentence.
Justice Rehnquist asserted that the reasoning in Dumschat "did not depend on the fact that it was not a capital case" and so the same reasoning should be applied in Woodard's case. He conceded that an inmate, justly tried and convicted, retains an "interest in not being executed." However, he reasoned, the inmate cannot use that interest to challenge clemency procedures and thus possibly change the outcome of his or her clemency decision.

In analyzing the nature of the clemency mechanism, Justice Rehnquist drew a clear distinction between the adjudicatory and clemency processes. He called a petition for clemency in effect merely a

unilateral hope. [The inmate] . . . accepts the finality of death for purposes of adjudication, and appeals for clemency as a matter of [executive] grace.
Thus, he reasoned, clemency procedures were free from the kind of due process requirements which bind the judicial system. Because this executive discretion was not constrained by the type of protections sought by Woodard, he concluded, Ohio's clemency procedures did not violate his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Justice Rehnquist addressed the Fifth Amendment right to silence issue by noting that the amendment only protected against compelled self-incrimination. He compared the inmate's participation in the voluntary interview to a defendant who chooses to take the stand in his or her own defense, thus giving up his or her right against self-incrimination. He found it "difficult to see how a voluntary [clemency] interview could `compel' [Woodard] to speak." Thus, he held, Ohio's clemency interview was not in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The court of appeals judgment was reversed on both questions.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentOhio Adult Parole Authority v. Woodard - Significance, Background, A Protected Life Interest On Death Row, Safeguarding Against Irresponsible Clemency, Impact