459 U.S. 932 (1982)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

BUTLER v. SOUTH CAROLINA , 459 U.S. 932 (1982)

459 U.S. 932

No. 82-5028

Supreme Court of the United States

October 12, 1982

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976), I would vacate the death sentence in this case.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that capital punishment is unconstitutional under all circumstances, I would grant certiorari and vacate petitioner's death sentence. However, even if I believed that the death penalty could constitutionally be imposed under certain circumstances, I would vacate the death sentence in this case because both the trial court's instructions concerning the standard of proof and the State Supreme Court's standard for reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence failed to assure a reliable sentencing determination.

Following petitioner Horace Butler's conviction for murder, the trial court conducted a separate sentencing proceeding in accordance with South Carolina law, S.C. Code 16-3-20(B) (Supp. 1981). In order to impose the death penalty, the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of at least one statutory aggravating circumstance. 16-3- 20(C). The State alleged two aggravating circumstances: that the murder occurred during the commission of a rape and that the murder occurred during the

Page 459 U.S. 932 , 933

commission of a kidnapping. See 16-3-20(C)(a)(1)(a) and (c). The trial judge initially stated that he was "extremely dubious" whether the state had presented sufficient evidence of either rape or kidnapping. [Footnote 1] He subsequently changed his mind concerning the sufficiency of the evidence of rape and submitted that aggravating circumstance to the jury, but he ruled that the evidence of kidnapping did not suffice as a matter of law. The jury then found that the state had established the aggravating circumstance of rape, and sentenced petitioner to death. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. S.C., 290 S.E. 2d 1 (1982).

Recognizing the extraordinary consequences of the capital sentencing process, this Court has stressed "the need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case." Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305, 2991d 944 (1976) (opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ.) (footnote omitted). See Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 2964 (1978) (opinion of BURGER, C.J.). Accordingly, "we have invalidated procedural rules that tended to diminish the reliability of the sentencing determination." Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 638, 100 S. Ct. 2382, 2390 (1980). In this case, errors committed by the trial judge at the sentencing stage and by the State Supreme Court on appeal seriously undermined the reliability of the sentencing determination.

The sentencing court's instructions to the jury concerning reasonable doubt impermissibly lowered the standard of proof required to establish the aggravating circumstance of rape. South Carolina's death penalty statute requires that proof of aggravating circumstances be established beyond a [459 U.S. 932 , 934]

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.