469 U.S. 920 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

HEINEY v. FLORIDA , 469 U.S. 920 (1984)

469 U.S. 920

Robert D. HEINEY
No. 83-6994

Supreme Court of the United States

October 15, 1984

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

I continue to adhere to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231, 2973 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting); Furman v.

Page 469 U.S. 920 , 921

Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 314, 2764 (1972) ( MARSHALL, J., concurring). I therefore dissent from the Court's denial of the petition and would vacate the death sentence here.


I must also write, however, to point out an aspect of the trial judge's sentencing decision that violates indispensable principles contained in the prevailing death penalty jurisprudence of this Court. The trial judge in this case overturned a jury recommendation of life and sentenced the defendant to die, in part out of a belief as to the law that is wholly inconsistent with the constitutional principles of Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), and Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978).

In reviewing the jury recommendation against death, the sentencing judge explained that he saw no mitigating circumstances, and that he believed the jury had based its recommendation on an "invalid" mitigating circumstance stemming from residual feelings of doubt as to guilt. Because he saw this as a legally improper mitigating circumstance he felt little hesitancy in putting their recommendation to the side. Since the sentencing here, the Florida Supreme Court seems to have added its voice in support of the proposition that lingering doubts as to guilt cannot be a ground for mitigating a death sentence.

"A convicted defendant cannot be 'a little bit guilty.' It is unreasonable for a jury to say in one breath that a defendant's guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt and, in the next breath, to say someone else may have done it, so we recommend mercy." Buford v. State, 403 So.2d 943, 953 (1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1164, 102 S. Ct. 1039 (1981).

The error of the sentencing judge in this case thus seems to have been enshrined in Florida law.

This Court, in Lockett and then more decisively in Eddings, held that any aspect of the case that could rationally support mitigation must be deemed a legally valid basis for mitigation. There is certainly nothing irrational-indeed, there is nothing novel-about the idea of mitigating a death sentence because of lingering doubts as to guilt. It has often been noted that one of the most fearful aspects of the death penalty is its finality. There is simply no possibility of correcting a mistake. The horror of sending an innocent defendant to death is thus qualitatively different from the horror of falsely imprisoning that defendant. The belief that such [469 U.S. 920 , 922]

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