Enmund v. Florida
458 U.S. 782 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982)

Enmund v. Florida

No. 81-5321

Argued March 23, 1982

Decided July 2, 1982

458 U.S. 782

Syllabus

Petitioner and a codefendant, at a jury trial in a Florida court, were convicted of first-degree murder and robbery of two elderly persons at their farmhouse, and were sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed. The court held that, although the record supported no more than the inference that petitioner was the person in a car parked by the side of the road near the farmhouse at the time of the killings waiting to help the robbers and killers (the codefendant and another) escape, this was enough under Florida law to make petitioner a constructive aider and abettor and hence a principal in first-degree murder upon whom the death penalty could be imposed. It was thus irrelevant to petitioner's challenge to the death sentence that he did not himself kill and was not present at the killings, or whether he intended that the victims be killed or anticipated that lethal force might be used to effectuate the robbery or escape.

Held: The imposition of the death penalty upon petitioner is inconsistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 458 U. S. 788-801.

(a) The current judgments of legislatures, juries, and prosecutors weigh heavily on the side of rejecting capital punishment for the crime at issue. Only a small minority of States -- eight -- allow the death penalty to be imposed solely because the defendant somehow participated in the robbery in the course of which a murder was committed, but did not take or attempt or intend to take life, or intend that lethal force be employed. And the evidence is overwhelming that American juries have repudiated imposition of the death penalty for crimes such as petitioner's, the statistics demonstrating that juries -- and perhaps prosecutors -- consider death a disproportionate penalty for those who fall within petitioner's category. Pp. 458 U. S. 788-796.

(b) While robbery is a serious crime deserving serious punishment, it is not a crime "so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death." Gregg v. Georgia,428 U. S. 153, 428 U. S. 184. The death penalty, which is "unique in its severity and irrevocability," id. at 428 U. S. 187, is an excessive penalty for the robber, who, as such, does not take human life. Here, the focus must be on petitioner's culpability, not on those who committed the robbery and killings. He did not kill or intend to kill, and thus his culpability is different from that of the robbers who killed, and it is impermissible for the State

Page 458 U. S. 783

to treat them alike and attribute to petitioner the culpability of those who killed the victims. Pp. 458 U. S. 797-798.

(c) Neither deterrence of capital crimes nor retribution is a sufficient justification for executing petitioner. It is unlikely that the threat of the death penalty for murder will measurably deter one, such as petitioner, who does not kill or intend to kill. As to retribution, this depends on the degree of petitioner's culpability, which must be limited to his participation in the robbery. Putting him to death to avenge two killings that he did not commit or intend to commit or cause would not measurably contribute to the retribution end of ensuring that the criminal gets his just deserts. Pp. 458 U. S. 798-801.

399 So.2d 1362, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 458 U. S. 801. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 801.

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Primary Holding

Sentencing a defendant to death based on the felony murder rule violates the Eighth Amendment because the defendant did not kill, attempt to kill, or intend to kill anyone.