Eddings v. Oklahoma
Annotate this Case
455 U.S. 104 (1982)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982)
Eddings v. Oklahoma
Argued November 2, 1981
Decided January 19, 1982
455 U.S. 104
Petitioner was convicted in an Oklahoma trial court of first-degree murder for killing a police officer and was sentenced to death. At the time of the offense, petitioner was 16 years old, but he was tried as an adult. The Oklahoma death penalty statute provides that, in a sentencing proceeding, evidence may be presented as to "any mitigating circumstances" or as to any of certain enumerated aggravating circumstances. At the sentencing hearing, the State alleged certain of the enumerated aggravating circumstances, and petitioner, in mitigation, presented substantial evidence of a turbulent family history, of beatings by a harsh father, and of serious emotional disturbance. In imposing the death sentence, the trial judge found that the State had proved each of the alleged aggravating circumstances. But he refused, as a matter of law, to consider in mitigation the circumstances of petitioner's unhappy upbringing and emotional disturbance, and found that the only mitigating circumstance was petitioner's youth, which circumstance was held to be insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.
Held: The death sentence must be vacated, as it was imposed without "the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors . . . required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in capital cases," Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586, 438 U. S. 606. Pp. 455 U. S. 110-116.
(a) "[T]he Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer . . . not be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Lockett v. Ohio, supra at 438 U. S. 604. This rule follows from the requirement that capital punishment be imposed fairly and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and recognizes that a consistency produced by ignoring individual differences is a false consistency. Pp. 455 U. S. 110-112.
(b) The limitation placed by the courts below upon the mitigating evidence they would consider violated the above rule. Just as the State may not by statute preclude the sentencer from considering any mitigating factor, neither may the sentencer refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence. The sentencer and the reviewing
court may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence, but may not give it no weight by excluding it from their consideration. Here, the evidence of a difficult family history and of emotional disturbance petitioner offered at the sentencing hearing should have been duly considered in sentencing. Pp. 455 U. S. 112-116.
616 P.2d 1159, reversed in part and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 455 U. S. 117, and O'CONNOR, J., post, p. 455 U. S. 117, filed concurring opinions. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 455 U. S. 120.