MILLER v. FLORIDA
459 U.S. 1158 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MILLER v. FLORIDA , 459 U.S. 1158 (1983)

459 U.S. 1158

Ernest Lee MILLER v. FLORIDA
No. 82-5590 Supreme Court of the United States January 17, 1983

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The motion of Florida Public Defenders Association, Inc. for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, dissenting. Adhering to my views that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976), I would grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence in this case.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting from denial of certiorari. I continue to adhere to my view that the death penalty is unconstitutional under all circumstances. I would therefore grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence on this basis alone. However, even if I accepted the prevailing view that the death penalty can constitutionally be imposed under certain circumstances, I would grant certiorari in this case to consider whether a trial judge may reject a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment and impose the death sentence based in part on a different jury's recommendation that the defendant's accomplice be sentenced to death. Petitioner Ernest Lee Miller and his step-brother, William Riley Jent, were indicted for first degree murder. Following trials before the same judge but before separate juries, both defendants were found guilty. The trials were followed by hearings at which each jury was directed to consider "[w]hether sufficient mitigating circumstances exist . . . which outweigh the aggravating circumstances found to exist; and . . . [b]ased on these considerations the defendant should be sentenced to life [ imprisonment] or death." Fla.Stat.Ann. 921.141(2)(b) and (c). The jury that heard petitioner's case recommended life imprisonment, but in Jent's case the jury recommended a death sentence. Under the Florida capital sentencing procedure, the jury's sentencing decision is only advisory; the actual sentence is

Page 459 U.S. 1158 , 1159

determined by the trial judge. Here the judge who conducted both trials sentenced both petitioner and his accomplice Jent. In the case of Jent, the judge accepted the jury's recommendation and imposed a death sentence.

In the case of petitioner, the judge was faced with a jury recommendation of life imprisonment. Under Florida law, a sentencing judge can reject such a recommendation only if " 'the facts suggesting a sentence of death [are] so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.' " Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 249, 2965 (1976), quoting Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (1975). In deciding to impose the death sentence despite the jury's recommendation, the judge relied heavily on the fact that in Jent's case the jury recommended a death sentence:

"The United States Supreme Court has determined that if the death penalty is to be imposed by the states, the United States Constitution demands that it be imposed with regularity, rationality and consistency.

"The jury for the defendant Jent has recommended death and this court finds that the weight of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances demand death sentences for both defendants. Therefore, if the recommendation of the jury for the defendant Miller were followed, that would result in two co-perpetrators who participated equally in a crime having disparate sentences. It would cause a hollow ring in the Florida halls of justice if the sentences in these cases were not to be equalized." Findings in Support of Sentences 6 ( citations omitted).

"The goal in the law is regularity or uniformity in the application of those available sentences. Now, the Court, our Supreme Court in Florida has also said that . . . [the fact that] two co-perpetrators who participated equally in the crime would have disparate sentences if the jury recommendation were to be accepted has to be a strong consideration." Transcript at 17. [459 U.S. 1158 , 1160]


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