469 U.S. 900 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

STEBBING v. MARYLAND , 469 U.S. 900 (1984)

469 U.S. 900

No. 84-5079

Supreme Court of the United States

October 9, 1984

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

The petition for a 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 grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence in this case.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

The issue presented by this petition is the constitutionality of the Maryland capital punishment statute, which (1) bars consideration of certain mitigating evidence when the sentencer decides whether to impose a life or death sentence; (2) prevents the sentencer from making an independent determination as to whether death is a proper penalty; and (3) may easily be understood to impose on the defendant the burden of proving that death is not appropriate in his case. Because these three aspects of the Maryland death penalty statute raise profound questions of compliance with this Court's holdings in Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), and Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), I would grant the petition to review the constitutionality of the statute.


In Lockett v. Ohio, Chief Justice BURGER, writing for a plurality of the Court, stated:

    "[W]e conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer . . . not be precluded from

    Page 469 U.S. 900 , 901

    considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Id., at 604, 98 S.Ct ., at 2964 (emphasis in original).

The opinion recognized that "the imposition of death by public authority is . . . profoundly different from all other penalties," and that the sentencer therefore must be free to give "independent mitigating weight to aspects of the defendant's character and record and to circumstances of the offense proffered in mitigation." Id., at 605, 98 S. Ct., at 2965. As we later said: "By holding that the sentencer in capital cases must be permitted to consider any relevant mitigating factor, the rule in Lockett recognizes that a consistency produced by ignoring individual differences is a false consistency." Eddings v. Oklahoma, supra, 455 U.S., at 112.

In Eddings, this Court reaffirmed that a sentencer may not be barred from considering all evidence of mitigating factors when it renders its decision on sentencing. The trial judge there had declined to consider the fact of Eddings' violent background, on which evidence had been introduced, as a mitigating circumstance. In reversing Eddings' death sentence, the Court observed,

"Just as the State may not by statute preclude the sentencer from considering any mitigating factor, neither may the sentencer refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence. In this instance, it was as if the trial judge had instructed a jury to disregard the mitigating evidence Eddings proffered on his behalf. The sentencer, and the Court of Criminal Appeals on review, may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence. But they may not give it no weight by excluding such evidence from their consideration." 455 U.S., at 113-115, 102 S. Ct., at 876-877 (emphasis in original).

It therefore is now well established that the Constitution requires that the sentencing body in a capital case not be precluded by statute from considering all relevant mitigating evidence and inferences. Put another way, a jury must be free to conclude that any relevant mitigating evidence amounts to a factor that mitigates the severity of the punishment a defendant ought to suffer. Yet the Maryland statute denies the sentencer the constitutionally required latitude. [469 U.S. 900 , 902]

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