Ohio Adult Parole Authority v. Woodward
Decided on Mar. 25, 1998; 523 US 272


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (death penalty)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does an inmate have a protected life or liberty interest in clemency proceedings? Does the option of voluntarily participating in an interview as part of the clemency process violate an inmate's Fifth Amendment rights?


A. Background:

After Respondent Eugene Woodward's death sentence was finalized, the Ohio Adult Parole Authority (herinafter the "Authority") commenced a clemency investigation. This investigation, in accordance with state law, is voluntary and counsel is not allowed to attend. The Authority makes a recommendation to Governor of Ohio for clemency or pardon, regardless of whether or not the inmate sought a stay of execution. State law also provides that if a stay has not yet issued, the Authority must schedule a clemency hearing 45 days before an execution for a date approximately 21 days in advance of the execution.

Woodward did not request an interview, but objected to the short notice of the notice of the interview and requested assurances that counsel could be present. The Authority failed to respond and Woodward filed suit alleging that Ohio's clemency process violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process and his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The District Court dismissed on Summary Judgment.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. It determined that Woodward had failed to establish a protected life or liberty interest arising out of the clemency proceeding itself, and that there was no state-created life or liberty interest in clemency, and that the amount of process due was in proportion to the degree to which the stage was an "integral part" of the adjudicatory system, and since clemency was far removed from trial the process due could be minimal. The court agreed with Woodward that the voluntary interview procedure presented a Fifth Amendment Hobson's choice between asserting his Fifth Amendment rights and participating in the clemency hearing.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the issue.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
S. Adele Shank argued the case for Respondent. With her on the brief were David H. Bodiker, Michael J. Benza and Gregory W. Meyers. William A. Klatt, First Attorney General of Ohio, argued the case for Petitioners. With him on the brief were Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General; Jeffery S. Sutton, State Solicitor; Simon B. Karas, and Jon c. Walden, Assistant Attorneys General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., by Daniel T. Kobil, Steven R. Shapiro, and Diann Y. Rust-Tierney; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Andrea D. Lyon and Barbara E. Bergman.


Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of California, et al., by Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General; George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General; Robert R. Anderson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; William G. Prahl, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; Ward A. Campbell, Deputy Attorney General; and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Bill Pryor of Alabama; Grant Woods of Arizona; Winston Bryant of Arkansas; Gale A. Norton of Colorado; M. Jane Brady of Delaware; Robert A. Butterworth of Florida; Thurbert E. Baker of Georgia; Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii; Alan G. Lance of Idaho; James E. Ryan of Illinois; Jeffrey A. Modisett of Indiana; Albert B. Chandler III of Kentucky; Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana; Andrew Ketterer of Maine; J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland; Mike Moore of Mississippi; Jeremiah W (Jay) Nixon of Missouri; Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana; Don Stenberg of Nebraska; Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada; Peter Verniero of New Jersey; Dennis C. Vacco of New York; Michael F. Easley of North Carolina; D. Michael Fisher of Pennsylvania; Charles M. Condon of South Carolina; Mark W Barnett of South Dakota; John Knox Walkup of Tennessee; Dan Morales of Texas; Jan Graham of Utah; Richard Cullen of Virginia; Christine Q. Gregoire of Washington; and William U. Hill of Wyoming; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger and Charles L. Hobson.

"Clemency proceedings are not part of the trial - or even of the adjudicatory process. They do not determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and are not intended primarily to enhance the reliability of the trial process. They are conducted by the executive branch, independent of direct appeal and collateral relief proceedings... And they are usually discretionary, unlike the more structured and limited scope of judicial proceedings...

Respondent is already under a sentence of death, determined to have been lawfully imposed. If clemency is granted, he obtains a benefit; if it is denied, he is no worse off than he was before...

Because there is only one guaranteed clemency review, respondent asserts, his decision to participate is not truly voluntary. And in the interview he may be forced to answer questions; or, if he remains silent, his silence may be used against him. Respondent further asserts there is a substantial risk of incrimination since postconviction proceedings are in progress and since he could potentially incriminate himself on other crimes. Respondent therefore concludes that the interview unconstitutionally conditions his assertion... Assuming also that the Authority will draw adverse inferences from respondent's refusal to answer questions - which it may do in a civil proceeding without offending the Fifth Amendment... we do not think that respondent's testimony at a clemency interview would be 'compelled' within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment… He merely faces a choice quite similar to the sorts of choices that a criminal defendant must make in the course of criminal proceedings, none of which has ever been held to violate the Fifth Amendment.

Long ago we held that a defendant who took the stand in his own defense could not claim the privilege against self-incrimination when the prosecution sought to cross - examine him... A defendant who takes the stand in his own behalf may be impeached by proof of prior convictions without violation of the Fifth Amendment privilege... A defendant whose motion for acquittal at the close of the government's case is denied must then elect whether to stand on his motion or to put on a defense, with the accompanying risk that in doing so he will augment the government's case against him... In each of these situations, there are undoubted pressures - generated by the strength of the government's case against him - pushing the criminal defendant to testify. But it has never been suggested that such pressures constitute 'compulsion' for Fifth Amendment purposes."

Held: The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Vote: 0 Pro vs. 9 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Con (Wrote opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined majority opinion)


The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.