EUTZY v. FLORIDA
Annotate this Case
471 U.S. 1045 (1985)
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U.S. Supreme Court
EUTZY v. FLORIDA , 471 U.S. 1045 (1985)
471 U.S. 1045
William EUTZY, petitioner,
Supreme Court of the United States
April 15, 1985
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.
Although the State of Florida has adopted a system of capital sentencing that allows a trial judge to overturn a sentencing jury's finding as to the inappropriateness of death-and although this Court has upheld that system as constitutional, see Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447 (1984)-that system nevertheless remains subject to the dictates of Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 102 S. Ct. 869 (1982). In Florida, as in other States, a capital defendant has a right to a sentencer who is free to consider and weigh, within the broadest bounds of relevance, " '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 110 (quoting Lockett, supra, 438 U.S., at 604, 98 S.Ct., 2964) (emphasis added).
[ Eutzy v. Florida 471 U.S. 1045 (1985) ][1045-Continued.]
This principle must govern judges responsible for sentencing, Eddings, supra, just as it must govern juries. In Florida, it must govern both, for the state scheme purports to split sentencing authority between the two. Although the judge has the power to override, that power is limited, for the judge may not exercise plenary discretion as to the issue of mitigation. To the contrary, the State has repeatedly purported to limit the judicial override to those cases where "the facts suggesting a sentence of death are so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ." Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (Fla.1975). Unfortunately, regardless of this supposed limit-a limit that the State cited to this Court when arguing for the constitutionality of its sentencing process, Spaziano, supra, 468 U.S., at 465- the State has administered capital sentencing in a manner that allows the override to repeatedly denigrate the principle of Lockett and Eddings. See e.g., Heiney v. Florida, 469 U.S. 920 ( 1984) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari).
In this case, the Florida Supreme Court took another step in the erosion of Lockett and Eddings, affirming a judge's sentence of death over a jury's finding for life on the ground that certain miti-
gating factors that likely stood behind the jury's finding were simply invalid as a matter of law, and the jury's verdict was therefore reversible within the Tedder rule. Under Lockett and Eddings that legal determination is simply wrong as a matter of federal law. It embodies a view of mitigation that is violative of the Eighth Amendment. To prevent this denigration of one of the most important aspects of our Eighth Amendment law, I would grant review in this case. [Footnote 1]
The facts of this case are not complicated. Petitioner was found guilty of murdering a taxi driver. There were no witnesses, nor was there evidence of robbery; and petitioner's sister-in-law, who testified against petitioner at trial, may have played some uncertain role in the crime. The jury returned a verdict of life in prison, and the trial judge, finding that there were three aggravating circumstances but no mitigating circumstances, overrode that verdict and imposed a death sentence. The trial judge did not attempt to analyze the jury's thought process when he reversed it, nor did he make any Tedder finding. He simply expressed disagreement with the jury determination. His sentence was affirmed by the State Supreme Court. 458 So.2d 755 (1984).
The State Supreme Court's analysis of the case began with a determination that at least one of the aggravating circumstances found by the trial judge was inapplicable to this case as a matter of law, but it nevertheless affirmed the death sentence because it agreed that there were no valid mitigating circumstances. It held that this situation satisfied the Tedder standard. However, [471 U.S. 1045 , 1047]