Blystone v. Pennsylvania
Annotate this Case
494 U.S. 299 (1990)
U.S. Supreme Court
Blystone v. Pennsylvania, 494 U.S. 299 (1990)
Blystone v. Pennsylvania
Argued Oct. 10, 1989
Decided Feb. 28, 1990
494 U.S. 299
After convicting petitioner of robbery, first-degree murder, and related crimes, a Pennsylvania jury -- having found as an aggravating circumstance that petitioner committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony and having found that no mitigating circumstances existed -- sentenced him to death. The State Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's argument that the State's death penalty statute -- which requires a sentence of death if a jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances or one or more aggravating circumstances that outweigh any mitigating ones -- is unconstitutional because it mandates a death sentence based on the outcome of the weighing process.
Held: The Pennsylvania death penalty statute, and petitioner's sentence under it, comport with this Court's decisions interpreting the Eighth Amendment. The statute satisfies the requirement that a capital-sentencing jury be allowed to consider and give effect to all relevant mitigating evidence since it does not unduly limit the types of mitigating evidence that may be considered. Nor is the statute impermissibly mandatory. Death is not automatically imposed upon conviction for certain types of murder, but is imposed only after a determination that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating ones present in the particular crime committed by the particular defendant, or that there are no such mitigating circumstances. This is sufficient under Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586, and Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302. Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U. S. 280, and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U. S. 325, distinguished. Petitioner's argument that the mandatory feature of his jury instructions precluded the jury from considering whether the severity of his aggravating circumstance warranted the death sentence is rejected. The presence of aggravating circumstances serves the purpose of limiting the class of death-eligible defendants, and the Eighth Amendment does not require that such circumstances be further refined or weighed by a jury. Also rejected is petitioner's argument that the mandatory aspect of his jury instructions -- where the instructions additionally stated that the jury was allowed to consider, inter alia, whether petitioner was affected by "extreme" mental or emotional disturbance, whether he was "substantially" impaired from appreciating his conduct, or whether he acted under "extreme" duress -- foreclosed
the jury's consideration of lesser degrees of disturbance, impairment, or duress. The judge clearly stated that these were merely items that the jury could consider, and that it was also entitled to consider "any other mitigating matter concerning the character or record of the defendant, or the circumstances of his offense," an instruction that fully complies with the requirements of Lockett, supra, and Penry, supra. That other States have enacted different forms of death penalty statutes which also satisfy constitutional requirements casts no doubt on Pennsylvania's choice, since within the constitutional limits defined by this Court's cases, the States enjoy their traditional latitude to prescribe the method of punishment for those who commit murder. Pp. 494 U. S. 303-309.
519 Pa. 450, 549 A.2d 81, affirmed.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in all but Part IV of which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 494 U. S. 309.