Bullington v. Missouri,
451 U.S. 430 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U.S. 430 (1981)

Bullington v. Missouri

No. 79-6740

Argued January 14, 1981

Decided May 4, 1981

451 U.S. 430


Missouri law provides only two possible sentences for a defendant convicted of capital murder: (a) death, or (b) life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole for 50 years. Under state statutes, a separate presentence hearing, at which additional evidence in mitigation and aggravation of punishment is heard, must be held before the same jury that found the defendant guilty; the prosecution must prove the existence of aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt before the death penalty may be imposed; and a jury that imposes the death penalty must designate in writing the aggravating circumstance or circumstances that it finds beyond a reasonable doubt. The guilt or innocence phase of petitioner's state court trial resulted in a verdict of guilty of capital murder, and his presentence hearing resulted in the jury's additional verdict fixing petitioner's punishment at life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole for 50 years. After granting petitioner's post-trial motion for a new trial because of the intervening decision in Duren v. Missouri, 439 U. S. 357, which held that Missouri's allowing automatic exemption of women from jury service was unconstitutional, the trial court announced that it would grant petitioner's motion, based on double jeopardy grounds, to strike the prosecution's notice that it intended again to seek the death penalty on the basis of the same aggravating circumstances it had sought to prove at the first trial. The Missouri Court of Appeals denied the State's request for a writ of prohibition or mandamus, but the Missouri Supreme Court ultimately granted a writ of prohibition.

Held: Because, under Missouri law, the sentencing proceeding at petitioner's first trial was like the trial on the question of guilt or innocence, the protection afforded by the Double Jeopardy Clause to one acquitted by a jury is available to him, with respect to the death penalty, at his retrial. The reasoning of Stroud v. United States, 251 U. S. 15, is not controlling. Pp. 451 U. S. 437-446.

(a) This Court generally has concluded that, because the imposition of a particular sentence usually is not regarded as an "acquittal" of any more severe sentence that could have been imposed, the Double Jeopardy Clause imposes no absolute prohibition against the imposition of a harsher sentence at retrial after a defendant has succeeded in having his original conviction set aside. See North Carolina v. Pearce,

Page 451 U. S. 431

395 U. S. 711; Chaffin v. Stynchcombe, 412 U. S. 17; Stroud v. United States, supra; United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U. S. 117. However, in those cases, unlike the present case, the sentencing procedures did not have the hallmarks of a trial on guilt or innocence. In the first three cases, there was no separate sentencing proceeding at which the prosecution was required to prove additional facts in order to justify the particular sentence, and the sentencer's discretion in determining punishment was essentially unfettered. Although United States v. DiFrancesco, supra,. involved a separate sentencing procedure, the prosecution was required to prove an additional fact warranting a harsher penalty only by a preponderance of the evidence, and the sentencer's choice of punishment was far broader than the two choices available to petitioner's jury under Missouri law. Pp. 451 U. S. 437-441.

(b) The rationale of Burks v. United States, 437 U. S. 1, which held that a defendant may not be retried if he obtains a reversal of his conviction on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to convict, is relevant here. In the usual sentencing proceeding, it is impossible, because of the absence of sentencing standards, to conclude that a sentence less than the statutory maximum constitutes a decision to the effect that the prosecution has failed to prove its case. But by enacting a capital sentencing procedure that resembles a trial on the issue of guilt or innocence, Missouri explicitly requires the jury to determine whether the prosecution has "proved its case." Petitioner's sentence of life imprisonment at his first trial meant that the jury has already acquitted him of whatever was necessary to impose the death sentence. Pp. 451 U. S. 441-446.

594 S.W.2d 908, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 451 U. S. 447.

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