464 U.S. 1023 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ADAMS v. SOUTH CAROLINA , 464 U.S. 1023 (1983)

464 U.S. 1023

Sylvester Lewis ADAMS
No. 83-5547

Supreme Court of the United States

December 12, 1983

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

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is under all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, I would vacate the judgment of the Supreme Court of South Carolina insofar as it left undisturbed the death sentence imposed in this case. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231, 2973d 859 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). However, even if I believed that the death penalty could be imposed constitutionally under certain circumstances, I nevertheless would grant certiorari because this petition presents an important issue of federal con-

Page 464 U.S. 1023 , 1024

stitutional law, upon which State supreme courts and a federal court of appeals are divided.

At petitioner's trial, the judge made the following comments on the reasonable doubt standard:

    "If upon the whole case you have a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant, he's entitled to that doubt and would be entitled to an acquittal. . . . Now I do not mean, ladies and gentlemen, by the term reasonable doubt that it is some whimsical o[r] imaginary doubt. It is not a weak doubt, it is not a slight doubt. It is a substantial doubt, a doubt for which you give a reason. It is a substantial doubt arising out of the testimony or lack of testimony in the case for which a person honestly seeking to find the truth can give a reason. If you have such a doubt in your mind as to whether the State has proven this defendant guilty, you should resolve that doubt in his favor and write a verdict of not guilty and acquit him.

". . . .

". . . I would tell you that the two phrases reasonable doubt and proof to a moral certainty are synonymous and the legal equivalent of each other. These phrases connote, however, a degree of proof distinguished from an absolute certainty. The reasonable doubt that the law gives the accused is not a weak or a slight doubt, but a strong and well-founded doubt as to the truth of the charge."

These instructions guided the jury when it found petitioner guilty of murder and again at the sentencing hearing when it found beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances.

Petitioner objected to the reasonable-doubt instruction at trial and sought to challenge its constitutionality on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court. [Footnote 1] Having recently upheld similar [464 U.S. 1023 , 1025]

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