474 U.S. 1073 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ADAMS v. WAINWRIGHT , 474 U.S. 1073 (1986)

474 U.S. 1073

Aubrey Dennis ADAMS, petitioner
Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al.
No. 85-5815

Supreme Court of the United States

January 13, 1986

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.

Page 474 U.S. 1073 , 1074

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.

Because the Court's refusal to grant certiorari in this case allows the State of Florida to proceed with the execution of a defendant whose conviction may well rest upon a ground that the Florida Supreme Court has held invalid, I must dissent from the denial here.

Since Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931), this Court has recognized that "a general verdict must be set aside if the jury was instructed that it could rely on any of two or more independent grounds, and one of those grounds is insufficient, because the verdict may have rested exclusively on the insufficient ground." Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 881, 2745 (1983). See Chiarella v. United States, 445 U.S. 222, 237, n. 21, 1119, n. 21 (1980); Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 31-32, 1545-46 (1969). Although in Stromberg, the Court was concerned that the jury might have held the defendant criminally liable for conduct protected by the First Amendment, the rationale of that decision should not be limited to cases in which a general verdict may be based upon a ground repugnant to the Federal Constitution. Where a jury has been instructed that it may convict a defendant upon an invalid ground, the reason for that invalidity is not important. See Chiarella v. United States, supra, 445 U.S., at 237, n. 21, n. 21 ("We may not uphold a criminal conviction if it is impossible to ascertain whether the defendant has been punished for noncriminal conduct"). What offends the Due Process Clause is the possibility that the jury may have condemned the defendant for reasons that as a matter of law-be it statutory or constitutional-cannot support the verdict. The existence of such a possibility is all too real in this case and demands that petitioner's conviction be set aside.

Petitioner was arrested and charged with the murder of an 8-year-old girl. In statements to the police, he admitted removing the victim's clothes, using rope to tie her hands, and placing plastic bags over her body. He said he thought he had tried to have sexual relations with the victim but either could not do it or could [474 U.S. 1073 , 1075]

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