459 U.S. 895 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

QUINCE v. FLORIDA , 459 U.S. 895 (1982)

459 U.S. 895

Kenneth Darcell QUINCE v. FLORIDA
No. 82-5096

Supreme Court of the United States

October 4, 1982

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

Adhering to my view that capital punishment is unconstitutional under all circumstances, I would grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence on this basis alone. However, even if I believed that the death penalty could constitutionally be imposed under certain circumstances, I would grant certiorari because the decision below undermines a critical premise of this Court's conclusion that Florida's capital sentencing procedures adequately guard against the "arbitrary or capricious" imposition of death sentences. Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 253, 2967 (1976) (opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ.).

Petitioner pleaded guilty to burglary and felony-murder in the first degree. As part of the plea bargain, petitioner waived his right to a sentencing recommendation by a jury and agreed that the sentence would be determined solely by the trial judge. After conducting a sentencing hearing, the judge found three aggravating circumstances and one mitigating circumstance. The judge found as aggravating circumstances that the murder was heinous, that it was committed for pecuniary gain, and that it was committed during the commission of a rape. He found as a mitigating circumstance that "(t)he capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired." Fla.Stat.Ann. 921.141(6)(f) (Supp. 1982). The judge concluded, however, that this mitigating circumstance was " not entitled to a great deal of weight," and was outweighed by the aggravating circumstances. Accordingly, he imposed the death sentence. Petitioner appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, contending

Page 459 U.S. 895 , 896

that the trial court erred in giving too little weight to the mitigating circumstance.

In its decision affirming the death sentence, the Florida Supreme Court declined to make an independent evaluation of the evidence concerning aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The court explained that its statutory duty to review death sentences does not require it to make such an evaluation:

    "Our sole concern on evidentiary matters is to determine whether there was sufficient competent evidence in the record from which the judge ... could properly find the presence of appropriate aggravating or mitigating circumstances. If the findings of aggravating or mitigating circumstances are so supported, ... and if the death sentence is not disproportionate to others properly sustainable under the statute, the trial court's sentence must be sustained even though, had we been triers and weighers of fact, we might have reached a different result in an independent evaluation." 414 So.2d 185, 187 ( 1982), quoting Brown v. Wainwright, 392 So.2d 1327, 1331 (Fla.) ( footnote omitted), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1000, 70 L. Ed.2d 407 (1981).

Applying its deferential standard of review, the court affirmed the death sentence on the ground that "(t)he trial judge was not unreasonable in failing to give great weight" to petitioner's diminished capacity. Ibid. In the court's view it was significant that "(t)he trial judge clearly did not ignore every aspect of the medical testimony as the judge did in Huckaby v. State, 343 So.2d 29 (Fla.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 920 () (1977)." 414 So.2d, at 187.

The decision below undermines a fundamental premise of this Court's decision in Proffitt v. Florida upholding Florida's death penalty statute. The Florida statute, which was enacted in response to Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), provides for automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court of all death sentences. Fla.Stat.Ann. 921.141(4) (Supp.1982). [459 U.S. 895 , 897]

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