Roberts v. Louisiana,
428 U.S. 325 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976)

Roberts v. Louisiana

No. 75-5844

Argued March 30-31, 1976

Decided July 2, 1976

428 U.S. 325


Petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death under amended Louisiana statutes enacted after this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's contention that the new procedure for imposing the death penalty is unconstitutional. The post-Furman legislation mandates imposition of the death penalty whenever, with respect to five categories of homicide (here, killing during the perpetration of an armed robbery), the jury finds the defendant had a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. If a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder is returned, death is mandated regardless of any mercy recommendation. Every jury is instructed on the crimes of second-degree murder and manslaughter and permitted to consider those verdicts even if no evidence supports the lesser verdicts; and, if a lesser verdict is returned it is treated as an acquittal of all greater charges.

Held: The judgment is reversed insofar as it upheld the death sentence, and the case is remanded. Pp. 428 U. S. 331-336; 428 U. S. 336; 428 U. S. 336-337.

319 So.2d 317, reversed and remanded.


1. The imposition of the death penalty is not per se cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Gregg v. Georgia, ante at 428 U. S. 168-187. P. 428 U. S. 331.

2. Louisiana's mandatory death penalty statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 428 U. S. 331-336.

(a) Though Louisiana has adopted a different and somewhat narrower definition of first-degree murder than North Carolina, the difference is not of constitutional significance, and the Louisiana statute imposing a mandatory death sentence is invalid for substantially the same reasons as are detailed in Woodson v. North Carolina, ante at 428 U. S. 289-296. Pp. 428 U. S. 331-334.

(b) Though respondent State claims that it has adopted satisfactory procedures to comply with Furman's requirement that standardless jury discretion be replaced by procedures that safeguard

Page 428 U. S. 326

against the arbitrary and capricious imposition of death sentences, that objective has not been realized, since the responsive verdict procedure not only lacks standards to guide the jury in selecting among first-degree murderers, but it plainly invites the jurors to disregard their oaths and choose a verdict for a lesser offense whenever they feel that the death penalty is inappropriate. See Woodson, ante, at 428 U. S. 302-303. Pp. 428 U. S. 334-336.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concurred in the judgment for the reasons stated in his dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, ante p. 428 U. S. 227. P. 428 U. S. 336.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, being of the view that death is a cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, concurred in the judgment. Gregg v. Georgia, ante, p. 428 U. S. 231 (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). P. 428 U. S. 336.

Judgment of the Court, and opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., announced by STEVENS, J. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 428 U. S. 336, and MARSHALL, J., post p. 428 U. S. 336, filed statements concurring in the judgment. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting statement, post p. 428 U. S. 337. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 428 U. S. 337. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 428 U. S. 363.

Page 428 U. S. 327

Primary Holding

A death penalty law is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment when it makes capital punishment mandatory for many different crimes of varying severity.

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