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Murphy v. Hunt

Decided on Mar. 2, 1982; 455 US 478 - Nebraska's constitution denies bail to first-degree sexual offenders


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice, 6th Amendment, 8th Amendment, 14th Amendment, bail prohibition

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does a provision of the Nebraska state constitution prohibiting bail in certain cases of first-degree sexual offenses violate a defendant’s federal constitutional rights under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments?


A. Background:

Appellee Hunt was charged under Nebraska law with first-degree sexual offenses and his requests for bail were denied in Nebraska state court because the state's Constitution prohibited bail in cases of first-degree sexual offenses "where the proof is evident or the presumption is great." Appellee conceded that the proof was evident and that the presumption was great but still filed suit in the Federal District Court for the District of Nebraska under 42 U.S.C 1983 claiming the Nebraska provision violated his Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Appellee sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court dismissed appellee's civil rights complaint on October 17, 1980, after he had been convicted of two of the three charges against him. Hunt was later convicted of the third charge in November. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision in 1981, holding that the exclusion of bail in sexual offense cases violates the Excessive Bail Clause of the Eighth Amendment, which reads, "Excessive bail shall not be required."  The petitioners, lawyers from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, sought review by the US Supreme Court and the high court granted certiorari.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Bennett G. Hornstein argued the cause and filed a brief for appellee. Terry R. Schaaf, Assistant Attorney General of Nebraska, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief was Paul L. Douglas, Attorney General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Irvin B. Nathan and David P. Towey for the American Civil Liberties Union; by David Crump for the Legal Foundation of America; by Sheldon Portman for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association et al.; and by Quin Denvir and David R. Lipson for the Public Defender of California.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by James P. Manak, G. Joseph Bertain, Jr., Lloyd F. Dunn, George Nicholson, Robert L. Toms, Donald E. Santarelli, Jack Yelverton, George Deukmejian, Attorney General of California, and Richard S. Gebelein, Attorney General of Delaware, for Laws at Work (L. A. W.) et al.; and by Daniel J. Popeo and Paul D. Kamenar for the Washington Legal Foundation.

"In general a case becomes moot ‘when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.’ United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 396 (1980)... It would seem clear that under this general rule Hunt's claim to pretrial bail was moot once he was convicted. The question was no longer live because even a favorable decision on it would not have entitled Hunt to bail. For the same reason, Hunt no longer had a legally cognizable interest in the result in this case. He had not prayed for damages nor had he sought to represent a class of pretrial detainees...

The Court has never held that a mere physical or theoretical possibility was sufficient to satisfy the test stated in Weinstein. If this were true, virtually any matter of short duration would be reviewable. Rather, we have said that there must be a 'reasonable expectation' or a 'demonstrated probability' that the same controversy will recur involving the same complaining party. Weinstein v. Bradford. We detect no such level of probability in this case... All we know from the record is that Hunt has been convicted on three separate offenses and that his counsel was willing to stipulate that, for the purposes of Hunt's eligibility for bail, the proof of guilt was evident and the presumption great. Based on these two facts, we cannot say that there exists a 'reasonable expectation' or 'demonstrated probability' that Hunt will ever again be in this position. There is no reason to expect that all three of Hunt's convictions will be overturned on appeal.  Hunt's willingness to stipulate that the proof against him was 'evident' does not encourage us to believe otherwise.

There is no comparable set of expectations in this case. We have no reason to believe that Hunt will once again be in a position to demand bail before trial.

Accordingly, we find that the case presented is now moot. Indeed, it was moot at the time of the decisions of both the District Court and the Court of Appeals. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions that the complaint be dismissed."
Justice Vote: 1 Pro vs. 8 Con
(Per curiam "by the court" decision. No individual authorship of decision.)

  • Burger, W. Con
  • Brennan, W. Con
  • Marshall, T. Con
  • Blackmun,H. Con
  • Powell, L. Con
  • Rehnquist, W. Con
  • Stevens, J. Con
  • O’Connor, S. Con
  • White, B. Pro (wrote dissenting opinion)

The ACLU filed a brief of amici curiae urging affirmance. The US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the ruling of the Court of Appeals in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.