469 U.S. 1062 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

JACOBS v. WAINWRIGHT , 469 U.S. 1062 (1984)

469 U.S. 1062

Eligaah Ardalle JACOBS
Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections
No. 84-5389

Supreme Court of the United States

November 26, 1984

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.

This Court has unequivocally stated that a sentencer in a capital case must be permitted to consider, as evidence of mitigation, any aspect of a defendant's character or record, and any circumstances of the offense, that the defendant offers as a basis for a sentence less than death. Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 2964 ( 1978). The issue squarely presented is whether, when a trial judge has prevented the jury from hearing indisputably relevant mitigating evidence, that error creates such an unacceptable risk that the death penalty was inappropriately imposed as to require a reviewing

Page 469 U.S. 1062 , 1063

court to remand for resentencing, even if the error was not properly preserved in the trial court. To hold that the fundamental error may be ignored is to penalize a defendant, possibly with his life, for the shortcomings of his attorney. I do not believe such a result comports with the most elemental principles underlying the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. I therefore dissent.


The relevant facts of this case are quite straightforward. The defendant took the stand at the sentencing phase of his trial and testified about certain statutory mitigating factors. Trial counsel then asked: "Do you know anything else that you wish to tell this jury in mitigation of this offense of which you have been convicted?" The prosecutor objected to this question, arguing that it was too broad because "it must follow the statute." Trial counsel tried to phrase the question differently, and again the objection was sustained. The trial court accepted the prosecution argument that the Florida death penalty statute permitted only evidence of statutory mitigating factors. Since, under this view, all evidence of nonstatutory mitigating factors was inadmissible, the trial judge did not permit the defendant to describe to the jury the mitigating circumstances of his background, and of the offense.

There is no dispute that the trial judge violated the mandate of Lockett v. Ohio when he ruled that evidence of nonstatutory mitigating factors was not admissible. However, defendant's trial counsel, who continued as appellate counsel, did not raise this issue either on direct appeal in the state courts, or in the first petition for certiorari filed with this Court.

Thereafter the defendant obtained new counsel, who filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Florida Supreme Court, which has original jurisdiction to address claims of ineffective assistance of counsel before that court. In a terse paragraph, the court dismissed the argument that appellate counsel was ineffective. The court ruled that appellate counsel could not be considered incompetent for failure to raise the claim on appeal because he was procedurally precluded from raising it. Under Florida law, the court explained, counsel was required to make a proffer of the attempted testimony after the trial judge excluded it. Thus, the court effectively ruled, there could have been no prejudice from the failure to raise the issue on appeal, since the court would not have addressed it anyway. Two justices dissented on the [469 U.S. 1062 , 1064]

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