Gardner v. Florida,
430 U.S. 349 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gardner v. Florida, 430 U.S. 349 (1977)

Gardner v. Florida

No. 74-6593

Argued November 30, 1976

Decided March 22, 1977

430 U.S. 349


Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder in a Florida court. After the required separate sentencing hearing, the jury advised the court to impose a life sentence on the ground that the statutory mitigating circumstances required to be taken into account in imposing a sentence outweighed the aggravating circumstances. But the trial judge, relying in part on a presentence investigation report that he had ordered and portions of which were not disclosed to or requested by counsel for the parties, imposed the death sentence on the ground that a certain aggravating circumstance justified it and that there was no mitigating circumstance. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence without expressly discussing petitioner's contention that the sentencing court had erred in considering the presentence report, including the confidential portion, in deciding to impose the death penalty, and without reviewing such confidential portion.

Held: The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded. Pp. 430 U. S. 355-364.

313 So.2d 675, vacated and remanded.


1. Petitioner was denied due process of law when the death sentence was imposed, at least in part, on the basis of information that he had no opportunity to deny or explain. Williams v. New York, 337 U. S. 241, distinguished. Pp. 430 U. S. 355-362.

(a) In light of the constitutional developments whereby it is now recognized that death is a different kind of punishment from any other and that the sentencing process, as well as the trial itself, must satisfy due process, the capital sentencing procedure followed here is not warranted by any of the following justifications offered by the State: (i) an assurance of confidentiality is necessary to enable investigators to obtain relevant but sensitive disclosures about a defendant's background or character; (ii) full disclosure of a presentence report will unnecessarily delay the proceeding; (iii) such full disclosure, which often include psychiatric and psychological evaluations, will occasionally disrupt the rehabilitation process; and (iv) trial judges can be trusted to exercise

Page 430 U. S. 350

their sentencing discretion in a responsible manner, even though their decisions may be based on secret information. Pp. 430 U. S. 357-360.

(b) Even if it were permissible upon finding good cause to withhold a portion of a presentence report from the defendant, and even from defense counsel, nevertheless the full report must be made a part of the record to be reviewed on appeal. Since the State must administer its capital sentencing procedures with an even hand, that record must disclose to the reviewing court the considerations motivating the death sentence in every case in which it is imposed, since otherwise the capital sentencing procedure would be subject to the defects that resulted in the holding of unconstitutionality in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238. Pp. 430 U. S. 360-361.

(c) Here defense counsel's failure to request access to the full presentence report cannot justify the submission of a less complete record to the reviewing court than the record on which the trial judge based his decision to sentence petitioner to death, nor does such omission by counsel constitute an effective waiver of the constitutional error. Pp. 430 U. S. 361-362.

2. The proper disposition of the case is to vacate the death sentence and remand the case to the Florida Supreme Court with directions to order further proceedings at the trial court level not inconsistent with this opinion, rather than, as the State urges, merely remanding the case to the Florida Supreme Court with directions to have the entire presentence report made a part of the record to enable that court to complete its reviewing function, since this latter procedure could not fully correct the error. P. 430 U. S. 362.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE concluded, on the basis of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments, that a procedure for selecting defendants for the death penalty that permits consideration of secret information in a presentence report relevant to the defendant's character and record fails to meet the "need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment," Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U. S. 280, 428 U. S. 305. Pp. 430 U. S. 362-364.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN concurred in the judgment on the basis of the judgments in Woodson v. North Carolina, supra, and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U. S. 325. P. 430 U. S. 364.

STEVENS, J., announced the Court's judgment and filed an opinion, in which STEWART and POWELL JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., concurred in the judgment. WHITE, J., post, p. 430 U. S. 362, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 430 U. S. 364, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. BRENNAN, J., filed a separate

Page 430 U. S. 351

opinion, post, p. 430 U. S. 364. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 430 U. S. 365, and REHNQUIST, J, post, p. 430 U. S. 371, filed dissenting opinions.

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