Murray v. Giarratano
Respondents, a class of indigent Virginia death row inmates who do not have counsel to pursue postconviction proceedings, brought a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the District Court against various state officials, alleging that the Constitution required that they be provided with counsel at the State's expense for the purpose of pursuing collateral proceedings related to their convictions and sentences. The District Court concluded that respondents should receive greater assistance than that outlined in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72-which held that a prisoner's "right of access" to the courts required a State to furnish access to adequate law libraries or other legal aid so the prisoners might prepare petitions for judicial relief-since death row inmates have a limited amount of time to prepare petitions, since their cases are unusually complex, and since the shadow of impending execution interferes with their ability to do legal work. It found that Virginia's efforts-access to a law library or lawbooks, the availability of "unit attorneys," and appointment of counsel after a petition is filed-did not afford prisoners meaningful access to the courts because they did not guarantee the prisoners continuous assistance of counsel. Thus, it ordered Virginia to develop a program for the appointment of counsel, upon request, to indigent death row inmates wishing to pursue habeas corpus in state court, but, in light of Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 94 S.Ct. 2437, 41 L.Ed.2d 341, not in federal court. The Court of Appeals affirmed. It viewed the lower court's special "considerations" relating to death row inmates as findings of fact which were not clearly erroneous. It reasoned that the case was not controlled by Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 107 S.Ct. 1990, 95 L.Ed.2d 539-which held that neither the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment nor the equal protection guarantee of "meaningful access" required the State to appoint counsel for indigent prisoners seeking postconviction relief-since Finley was not a "meaningful access" case, since it did not address the rule enunciated in Bounds, and since it did not involve the death penalty.
Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.
847 F.2d 1118 (CA4 1988), reversed and remanded.