SONGER v. WAINWRIGHT
Annotate this Case
469 U.S. 1133 (1985)
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U.S. Supreme Court
SONGER v. WAINWRIGHT , 469 U.S. 1133 (1985)
469 U.S. 1133
Carl Ray SONGER v. Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al
No. 84-5690 Supreme Court of the United States January 7, 1985
On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.
Petitioner Carl Songer was sentenced to death in 1974. At the sentencing hearing, Songer's attorney did not offer available character evidence in mitigation, not because he had none, or as a strategic maneuver, but because he reasonably concluded that Florida law did not permit admission of such evidence. We have consistently held, however, that in capital cases "the 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." Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 2964 (1978) (opinion of BURGER, C.J.). We have applied this rule not only when the preclusion of mitigating evidence results under the plain terms of a statute, as in Lockett, but also where a nonstatutory application of state law violates the rule. Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 ( 1982). In Songer's case, the District Court ruled that Florida's capital sentencing statute was, in 1974, reasonably understood to preclude introduction of mitigating evidence unless the evidence fit into certain statutorily defined categories. Because that understanding, and Songer's consequent death sentence, violated clear principles expressed in Lockett and Eddings, this Court should vacate Songer's sentence and remand the case for a proper proceeding.
Songer was convicted in February 1974 of the first-degree murder of a Florida highway patrolman. The evidence at trial showed that Songer was asleep in the back seat of a car lawfully stopped off the highway when the investigating patrolman reached
into the car with his pistol in a ready position. Suddenly thus awakened, Songer grabbed his own gun, and both Songer and the patrolman fired multiple shots. The patrolman died from the injuries he received.
After returning a verdict of guilty, the jury separately heard evidence under Florida's recently enacted capital sentencing statute. Fla. Stat. 921.141 (1973).1 At the time, that statute listed eight aggravating circumstances and seven mitigating circumstances. 921.141( 6) and (7).2 Although Songer informed his attorney that members of his family and friends were willing and available to testify to his general good character and normally non-violent personality, Songer's counsel called no witnesses other than Songer and offered no other mitigating evidence for the jury to consider. The jury recommended death, and the judge imposed that sentence.
In 1980, Songer filed a motion to vacate sentence in his Florida trial court. [Footnote 3] He raised his Lockett claim as part of a broad challenge to his trial attorney's effective assistance and to the jury instructions used at sentencing. [Footnote 4] At the evidentiary hearing held [469 U.S. 1133 , 1135]