Jurek v. Texas,
428 U.S. 262 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262 (1976)

Jurek v. Texas

No. 75-5394

Argued March 30, 1976

Decided July 2, 1976

428 U.S. 262


Petitioner, who was convicted of murder and whose death sentence was upheld on appeal, challenges the constitutionality of the Texas procedures enacted after this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238. The new Texas Penal Code limits capital homicides to intentional and knowing murders committed in five situations. Texas also adopted a new capital sentencing procedure, which requires the jury to answer the following three questions in a proceeding that takes place after a verdict finding a person guilty of one of the specified murder categories: (1) whether the conduct of the defendant causing the death was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death would result; (2) whether it is probable that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence constituting a continuing threat to society; and (3) if raised by the evidence, whether the defendant's conduct was an unreasonable response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased. If the jury finds that the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer to each of the three questions is affirmative, the death sentence is imposed; if it finds that the answer to any question is negative, a sentence of life imprisonment results. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in this case indicated that it will interpret the "continuing threat to society" question to mean that the jury could consider various mitigating factors.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 428 U. S. 268-277; 428 U. S. 277; 428 U. S. 278-279; 428 U. S. 279.

522 S.W.2d 934, affirmed.


1. The imposition of the death penalty is not per se cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Gregg, ante at 428 U. S. 168-187. P. 428 U. S. 268.

2. The Texas capital sentencing procedures do not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Texas' action in narrowing capital offenses to five categories in essence requires the jury to find the existence of a statutory aggravating circumstance before

Page 428 U. S. 263

the death penalty may be imposed, thus requiring the sentencing authority to focus on the particularized nature of the crime. And, though the Texas statute does not explicitly speak of mitigating circumstances, it has been construed to embrace the jury's consideration of such circumstances. Thus, as in the cases of Gregg v. Georgia, ante p. 428 U. S. 153, and Proffitt v. Florida, ante p. 428 U. S. 242, the Texas capital sentencing procedure guides and focuses the jury's objective consideration of the particularized circumstances of the individual offense and the individual offender before it can impose a sentence of death. The Texas law has thus eliminated the arbitrariness and caprice of the system invalidated in Furman. Petitioner's contentions to the contrary are without substance. Pp. 428 U. S. 268-276.

(a) His assertion that arbitrariness still pervades the entire Texas criminal justice system fundamentally misinterprets Furman. Gregg, ante at 428 U. S. 198-199. P. 428 U. S. 274.

(b) Petitioner's contention that the second statutory question is unconstitutionally vague because it requires the prediction of human behavior lacks merit. The jury's task in answering that question is one that must commonly be performed throughout the American criminal justice system, and Texas law clearly satisfies the essential requirement that the jury have all possible relevant information about the individual defendant. Pp. 428 U. S. 274-276.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE concurred in the judgment. See Furman v. Georgia, supra at 408 U. S. 375 (BURGER, C.J., dissenting). P. 428 U. S. 277.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded that, under the revised Texas law, the substantive crime of murder is narrowly defined, and when murder occurs in one of the five circumstances detailed in the statute, the death penalty must be imposed if the jury makes the certain additional findings against the defendant. Petitioner's contentions that unconstitutionally arbitrary or discretionary statutory features nevertheless remain are without substance, Roberts v. Louisiana, post at 428 U. S. 348-350 (WHITE, J., dissenting); Gregg v. Georgia, ante at 428 U. S. 224-225 (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment), as is his assertion that the Eighth Amendment forbids the death penalty under any and all circumstances. Roberts v. Louisiana, post at 428 U. S. 350-356 (WHITE, J., dissenting). Pp. 428 U. S. 278-279.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN concurred in the judgment. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238, 408 U. S. 405-414 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting), and id. at 408 U. S. 375, 408 U. S. 414, and 408 U. S. 465. P. 428 U. S. 279.

Page 428 U. S. 264

Judgment of the Court, and opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., announced by STEVENS, J. BURGER, C.J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 428 U. S. 277. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 428 U. S. 277. BLACKMUN, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 428 U. S. 279. BRENNAN, J., ante p. 428 U. S. 227, and MARSHALL, J., ante p. 428 U. S. 231, filed dissenting opinions.

Primary Holding

The death penalty could be revived in Texas because the new law introduced a three-part test that must be satisfied before a defendant can be sentenced to death.

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