Cabana v. Bullock
Annotate this Case
474 U.S. 376 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
Cabana v. Bullock, 474 U.S. 376 (1986)
Cabana v. Bullock
Argued November 5, 1985
Decided January 22, 1986
474 U.S. 376
After respondent and his friend Tucker accepted Dickson's offer of a ride home, a fight developed between Tucker and Dickson, and Dickson stopped the car. Respondent held Dickson's head as Tucker struck Dickson in the face with a whiskey bottle. Tucker then pummeled Dickson with his fists until Dickson fell to the ground and lay helpless, at which point Tucker killed him by smashing his skull with a concrete block. Respondent and Tucker disposed of the body, and respondent kept Dickson's car for himself. Respondent was arrested the next day and was charged with capital murder under a Mississippi statute. The jury found him guilty and, following a separate sentencing hearing, sentenced him to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the capital murder verdict and death sentence were sustainable under a Mississippi law making an accomplice equally responsible with the principal offender. After exhausting state postconviction remedies, respondent filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which denied the writ. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that respondent's death sentence was invalid under the intervening decision in Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782, that the Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of the death penalty on
"one . . . who aids and abets a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force will be employed."
Id. at 458 U. S. 797. The court based its conclusion solely upon its reading of the jury instructions at respondent's state trial, reasoning that, under those instructions, the jury may well have found respondent guilty and sentenced him to death despite concluding that he had neither killed nor intended to kill, or without ever coming to any conclusion on those questions. Accordingly, the court granted a writ of habeas corpus and vacated respondent's death sentence but permitted the State, at its option, to impose a life sentence or conduct a new sentencing hearing at which, with the proper findings, a death sentence could be reimposed.
1. The Court of Appeals was correct in concluding that neither the jury's verdict of guilt nor its imposition of the death sentence necessarily reflected a finding that respondent killed, attempted to kill, or intended to kill. Pp. 474 U. S. 383-384.
2. But the Court of Appeals erred in focusing exclusively on the jury and in ordering a new sentencing hearing without inquiring whether the necessary finding of intent had been made by the state trial court or appellate court. The Enmund rule need not be enforced by the jury, and does not impose any particular form of procedure upon the States. At what point in its criminal process a State chooses to make the Enmund determination is of little concern from the standpoint of the Constitution. Accordingly, when a federal habeas corpus court reviews an Enmund claim, its inquiry cannot be limited to an examination of jury instructions. Rather, the court must examine the entire course of the state proceedings in order to determine whether, at some point, the requisite factual finding as to the defendant's culpability has been made. If it has, the finding must be presumed correct by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), and unless the habeas petitioner can bear the burden of overcoming the presumption, the court must hold that the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted in Enmund, is not offended by the death sentence. Pp. 474 U. S. 384-388.
3. The Mississippi Supreme Court's finding was insufficient to satisfy Enmund, for Enmund holds that the Eighth Amendment does more than require that a death sentenced defendant be legally responsible for a killing as a matter of state law; it requires that he himself have actually killed, attempted to kill, or intended that a killing take place or that lethal force be used. Pp. 474 U. S. 389-390.
4. The proper course for a federal court faced with a habeas corpus petition raising an Enmund claim when the state courts have failed to make any finding regarding the Enmund criteria is to take steps to require the State's own judicial system to make the factual findings in the first instance. Therefore, it is Mississippi, not the federal habeas corpus court, that should first provide respondent with a reliable determination as to whether he killed, attempted to kill, or intended that a killing take place or that lethal force be used. Pp. 474 U. S. 390-391.
5. Here, the District Court should be directed to issue the habeas corpus writ vacating respondent's death sentence, but to leave to the State the choice of either imposing a sentence of life imprisonment or reimposing the death sentence after obtaining a determination from its own courts of the factual question whether respondent killed, attempted to
kill, intended to kill, or intended that lethal force would be used. P. 474 U. S. 392.
743 F.2d 244, modified and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 474 U. S. 392. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 474 U. S. 393. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 394. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 407.