HAMILTON v. CALIFORNIA
Annotate this Case
488 U.S. 1047 (1989)
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U.S. Supreme Court
HAMILTON v. CALIFORNIA , 488 U.S. 1047 (1989)
488 U.S. 1047
Bernard Lee HAMILTON
CALIFORNIA. No. 88-5746.
Supreme Court of the United States
January 23, 1989
On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of California.
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.
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, 231, 2973, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting), I would grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence in this case. Even if I did not hold this view, however, I would grant the petition to resolve the question whether a trial court may instruct a penalty phase jury that, "if you conclude that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances, you shall impose a sentence of death." I have grave doubts that such an instruction permits the individualized and reliable sentencing determination that the Constitution requires in capital cases, particularly where, as here, it is coupled with prosecutorial remarks stressing the limits on jurors' discretion.
Petitioner Bernard Lee Hamilton was charged with first-degree murder, kidnaping, robbery, and burglary. During voir dire, the prosecutor told 11 of the 12 persons who ultimately served as
jurors that the law required them to impose a death sentence if they found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors. All 11 persons stated that they understood the law as explained by the prosecutor and promised to follow it.*
Hamilton was convicted of all charges. He was found to have committed the murder in the course of robbery, kidnaping, and burglary. These special circumstance findings made him eligible for the death penalty. During closing argument in the penalty phase, the prosecutor emphasized the limits on the jurors' discretion.
- "Now remember at the time of the voir dire you all promised that in the event that this case went to a penalty phase and the aggravation evidence outweighed the mitigation evidence, you would impose the death penalty. Well, that is the case here, and now is the time. You should not let sympathy for the defendant or his family affect your deliberations." Record 4642.
The trial judge echoed the prosecutor's remarks when he instructed the jury: "If you conclude that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances, you shall impose a sentence of death." Id., at 4669. This instruction mirrors Cal.Penal Code Ann. 190.3 (West 1988), which provides that, "the trier of fact . . . shall impose a sentence of death if the trier of fact concludes that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances." The jury sentenced Hamilton to death.
The California Supreme Court affirmed Hamilton's conviction but set aside the special circumstance findings and reversed the death sentence. 41 Cal.3d 408, 221 Cal.Rptr. 902, 710 P.2d 981 (1985). This Court granted certiorari, 478 U.S. 1017 (1986), vacated, and remanded for reconsideration in light of Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570 (1986). On remand, the California Supreme Court affirmed both the conviction and the sentence. 45 Cal.3d 351, 247 Cal.Rptr. 31, 753 P.2d 1109 (1988). It noted that it had upheld the constitutionality of 190.3 in People v. Brown, 40 Cal.3d 512, 230 Cal. Rptr. 834, 726 P.2d 516 (1985), even though [488 U.S. 1047 , 1049]