Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976) - [PDF Document] (2024)

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428 U.S. 280

96 S.Ct. 2978

49 L.Ed.2d 944

James Tyrone WOODSON and Luby Waxton, Petitioners,v.


No. 75-5491.

Argued March 31, 1976.Decided July 2, 1976.


Following this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346, the North Carolina law that previously hadprovided that in cases of first-degree murder the jury in its unbridleddiscretion could choose whether the convicted defendant should besentenced to death or life imprisonment was changed to make the deathpenalty mandatory for that crime. Petitioners, whose convictions of first-degree murder and whose death sentences under the new statute wereupheld by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, have challenged thestatute's constitutionality. Held : The judgment is reversed insofar as itupheld the death sentences, and the case is remanded. Pp. 285-305; 305-306; 306.

287 N.C. 578, 215 S.E.2d 607, reversed and remanded.

Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. JusticeSTEVENS concluded that North Carolina's mandatory death sentencestatute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 285-305.

1 (a) The Eighth Amendment serves to assure that the State's power to punish is"exercised within the limits of civilized standards," Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86,100, 78 S.Ct. 590, 597, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (plurality opinion), and central to theapplication of the Amendment is a determination of contemporary standardsregarding the infliction of punishment, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 176-182, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2926-2929, 49 L.Ed.2d 859. Pp. 288.

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2 (b) Though at the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted, all the Statesprovided mandatory death sentences for specified offenses, the reaction ofjurors and legislators to the harshness of those provisions has led to thereplacement of automatic death penalty statutes with discretionary jurysentencing. The two crucial indicators of evolving standards of decencyrespecting the imposition of punishment in our society jury determinations andlegislative enactments conclusively point to the repudiation of automatic deathsentences. "The belief no longer prevails that every offense in a like legalcategory calls for an identical punishment without regard to the past life andhabits of a particular offender," Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 247, 69S.Ct. 1079, 1083, 93 L.Ed. 1337. North Carolina's mandatory death penaltystatute for first-degree murder, which resulted from the state legislature'sadoption of the State Supreme Court's analysis that Furman required theserance of the discretionary feature of the old law, is a constitutionallyimpermissible departure from contemporary standards respecting imposition ofthe unique and irretrievable punishment of death. Pp. 289-301.

3 (c) The North Carolina statute fails to provide a constitutionally tolerableresponse to Furman's rejection of unbridled jury discretion in the imposition ofcapital sentences. Central to the limited holding in that case was the convictionthat vesting a jury with standardless sentencing power violated the Eighth andFourteenth Amendments, yet that constitutional deficiency is not eliminated bythe mere formal removal of all sentencing power from juries in capital cases. Inview of the historic record, it may reasonably be assumed that many juriesunder mandatory statutes will continue to consider the grave consequences of aconviction in reaching a verdict. But the North Carolina statute provides nostandards to guide the jury in determining which murderers shall live and whichshall die. Pp. 302-303.

4 (d) The respect for human dignity underlying the Eighth Amendment, Trop v.Dulles, supra, 356 U.S. at 100, 78 S.Ct. at 597 (plurality opinion), requiresconsideration of aspects of the character of the individual offender and thecirc*mstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable partof the process of imposing the ultimate punishment of death. The NorthCarolina statute impermissibly treats all persons convicted of a designatedoffense not as uniquely individual human beings, but as members of a faceless,undifferentiated mass to be subjected to the blind infliction of the death penalty.Pp. 303-305.

5 Mr. Justice BRENNAN concurred in the judgment for the reasons stated in hisdissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S., at 227, 96 S.Ct., at 2791. P.305.

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6 Mr. Justice MARSHALL, being of the view that death is a cruel and unusualpunishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, concurred inthe judgment. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S., at 231, 96 S.Ct., at 2973 (Marshall,J., dissenting). P. 306.

7 Anthony G. Amsterdam, Stanford, Cal., for petitioners.

8 Sidney S. Eagles, Jr., Raleigh, N. C., for respondent.

9 William E. James, Los Angeles, Cal., argued for the State of California, asamicus curiae.

10 Sol. Gen. Robert H. Bork, Washington, D. C., argued for the United States, asamicus curiae.

11 Judgment of the Court, and opinion of Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. JusticePOWELL, and Mr. Justice STEVENS, announced by Mr. Justice STEWART.

12 The question in this case is whether the imposition of a death sentence for thecrime of first-degree murder under the law of North Carolina violates theEighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

13 * The petitioners were convicted of first-degree murder as the result of theirparticipation in an armed robbery of a convenience food store, in the course ofwhich the cashier was killed and a customer was seriously wounded. Tre werefour participants in the robbery: the petitioners James Tyrone Woodson andLuby Waxton and two others, Leonard Tucker and Johnnie Lee Carroll. At thepetitioners' trial Tucker and Carroll testified for the prosecution after havingbeen permitted to plead guilty to lesser offenses; the petitioners testified in theirown defense.

14 The evidence for the prosecution established that the four men had beendiscussing a possible robbery for some time. On the fatal day Woodson hadbeen drinking heavily. About 9:30 p. m., Waxton and Tucker came to the trailerwhere Woodson was staying. When Woodson came out of the trailer, Waxtonstruck him in the face and threatened to kill him in an effort to make him soberup and come along on the robbery. The three proceeded to Waxton's trailerwhere they met Carroll. Waxton armed himself with a nickel-plated derringer,and Tucker handed Woodson a rifle. The four then set out by automobile to robthe store. Upon arriving at their destination Tucker and Waxton went into the

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store while Carroll and Woodson remained in the car as lookouts. Once insidethe store, Tucker purchased a package of cigarettes from the woman cashier.Waxton then also asked for a package of cigarettes, but as the cashierapproached him he pulled the derringer out of his hip pocket and fatally shother at point-blank range. Waxton then took the money tray from the cashregister and gave it to Tucker, who carried it out of the store, pushing past anentering customer as he reached the door. After he was outside, Tucker heard asecond shot from inside the store, and shortly thereafter Waxton emerged,carrying a handful of paper money. Tucker and Waxton got in the car and thefour drove away.

15 The petitioners' testimony agreed in large part with this version of thecirc*mstances of the robbery. It differed diametrically in one important respect:Waxton claimed that he never had a gun, and that Tucker had shot both thecashier and the customer.

16 During the trial Waxton asked to be allowed to plead guilty to the same lesseroffenses to which Tucker had pleaded guilty,1 but the solicitor refused to acceptthe pleas.2 Woodson, by contrast, maintained throughout the trial that he hadbeen coerced by Waxton, that he was therefore innocent, and that he would notconsider pleading guilty to any offense.

17 The petitioners were found guilty on all charges,3 and, as was required bystatute, sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed. 287N.C. 578, 215 S.E.2d 607 (1975). We granted certiorari, 423 U.S. 1082, 96S.Ct. 1090, 47 L.Ed.2d 94 (1976), to consider whether the imposition of thedeath penalties in this case comports with the Eighth and FourteenthAmendments to the United States Constitution.

18 The petitioners argue that the imposition of the death penalty under anycirc*mstances is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth andFourteenth Amendments. We reject this argument for the reasons stated todayin Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 168-187, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2922-2932, 49L.Ed.2d 859.

19 At the time of this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972), North Carolina law provided that in casesof first-degree murder, the jury in its unbridled discretion could choose whether

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the convicted defendant should be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment.4After the Furman decision the Supreme Court of North Carolina in State v.Waddell, 282 N.C. 431, 194 S.E.2d 19 (1973), held unconstitutional theprovision of the death penalty statute that gave the jury the option of returninga verdict of guilty without capital punishment, but held further that thisprovision was severable so that the statute survived as a mandatory deathpenalty law.5

20 The North Carolina General Assembly in 1974 followed the court's lead andenacted a new statute that was essentially unchanged from the old one exceptthat it made the death penalty mandatory. The statute now reads as follows:

21 "Murder in the first and second degree defined; punishment. A murder whichshall be perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving,torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, orwhich shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate any arson,rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary or other felony, shall be deemed to bemurder in the first degree and shall be punished with death. All other kinds ofmurder shall be deemed murder in the second degree, and shall be punished byimprisonment for a term of not less than two years nor more than lifeimprisonment in the State's prison." N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-17 (Cum.Supp.1975).

22 It was under this statute that the petitioners, who committed their crime on June3, 1974, were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

23 North Carolina, unlike Florida, Georgia, and Texas, has thus responded to theFurman decision by making death the mandatory sentence for all personsconvicted of first-degree murder.6 In ruling on the constitutionality of thesentences imposed on the petitioners under this North Carolina statute, theCourt now addresses for the first time the question whether a death sentencereturned pursuant to a law imposing a mandatory death penalty for a broadcategory of homicidal offenses7 constitutes cruel and unusual punishmentwithin the meaning of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.8 The issue, likethat explored in Furman, involves the procedure employed by the State to selectpersons for the unique and irreversible penalty of death.9

24 * The Eighth Amendment stands to assure that the State's power to punish is"exercised within the limits of civilized standards." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86,100, 78 S.Ct. 590, 598, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (1958) (plurality opinion). See Id., at101, 78 S.Ct., at 598; Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 373, 378, 30 S.Ct.544, 551, 553, 54 L.Ed. 793 (1910); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329

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U.S. 459, 468-469, 67 S.Ct. 374, 378-379, 91 L.Ed. 422 (1947) (Frankfurter, J.,concurring);10 Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 1420,8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962); Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at 242, 92 S.Ct., at 2728(Douglas, J., concurring); Id., at 269-270, 92 S.Ct., at 2741-2742 (Brennan, J.,concurring); Id., at 329, 92 S.Ct., at 2772 (Marshall, J., concurring); Id., at 382-383, 92 S.Ct., at 2800-2801 (Burger, C. J., dissenting); Id., at 409, 92 S.Ct., at2814 (Blackmun, J., dissenting); Id., at 428-429, 92 S.Ct., at 2823-2824(Powell, J., dissenting). Central to the application of the Amendment is adetermination of contemporary standards regarding the infliction ofpunishment. As discussed in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S., at 176-182, 96 S.Ct.,at 2926-2929, indicia of societal values identified in prior opinions includehistory and traditional usage,11 legislative enactments,12 and jurydeterminations.13

25 In order to provide a frame for assessing the relevancy of these factors in thiscase we begin by sketching the history of mandatory death penalty statutes inthe United States. At the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted in 1791, theStates uniformly followed the common-law practice of making death theexclusive and mandatory sentence for certain specified offenses.14 Although therange of capital offenses in the American Colonies was quite limited incomparison to the more than 200 offenses then punishable by death inEngland,15 the Colonies at the time of the Revolution imposed death sentenceson all persons convicted of any of a considerable number of crimes, typicallyincluding at a minimum, murder, treason, piracy, arson, rape, robbery, burglary,and sodomy.16 As at common law, all homicides that were not involuntary,provoked, justified, or excused constituted murder and were automaticallypunished by death.17 Almost from the outset jurors reacted unfavorably to theharshness of mandatory death sentences.18 The States initially responded to thisexpression of public dissatisfaction with mandatory statutes by limiting theclasses of capital offenses.19

26 This reform, however, left unresolved the problem posed by the not infrequentrefusal of juries to convict murderers rather than subject them to automaticdeath sentences. In 1794, Pennsylvania attempted to alleviate the undueseverity of the law by confining the mandatory death penalty to "murder of thefirst degree" encompassing all "wilful, deliberate and premeditated" killings.Pa.Laws 1794, c. 1766.20 Other jurisdictions, including Virginia and Ohio, soonenacted similar measures, and within a generation the practice spread to most ofthe States.21

27 Despite the broad acceptance of the division of murder into degrees, the reformproved to be an unsatisfactory means of identifying persons appropriately

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punishable by death. Although its failure was due in part to the amorphousnature of the controlling concepts of willfulness, deliberateness, andpremeditation,22 a more fundamental weakness of the reform soon becameapparent. Juries continued to find the death penalty inappropriate in asignificant number of first-degree murder cases and refused to return guiltyverdicts for that crime23

28 The inadequacy of distinguishing between murderers solely on the basis oflegislative criteria narrowing the definition of the capital offense led the Statesto grant juries sentencing discretion in capital cases. Tennessee in 1838,followed by Alabama in 1841, and Louisiana in 1846, were the first States toabandon mandatory death sentences in favor of discretionary death penaltystatutes.24 This flexibility remedied the harshness of mandatory statutes bypermitting the jury to respond to mitigating factors by withholding the deathpenalty. By the turn of the century, 23 States and the Federal Government hadmade death sentences discretionary for first-degree murder and other capitaloffenses. During the next two decades 14 additional States replaced theirmandatory death penalty statutes. Thus, by the end of World War I, all but eightStates, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia either had adopted discretionarydeath penalty schemes or abolished the death penalty altogether. By 1963, all ofthese remaining jurisdictions had replaced their automatic death penalty statuteswith discretionary jury sentencing.25

29 The history of mandatory death penalty statutes in the United States thusreveals that the practice of sentencing to death all persons convicted of aparticular offense has been rejected as unduly harsh and unworkably rigid. Thetwo crucial indicators of evolving standards of decency respecting theimposition of punishment in our society jury determinations and legislativeenactments both point conclusively to the repudiation of automatic deathsentences. At least since the Revolution, American jurors have, with someregularity, disregarded their oaths and refused to convict defendants where adeath sentence was the automatic consequence of a guilty verdict. As we haveseen, the initial movement to reduce the number of capital offenses and toseparate murder into degrees was prompted in part by the reaction of jurors aswell as by reformers who objected to the imposition of death as the penalty forany crime. Nineteenth century journalists, statesmen, and jurists repeatedlyobserved that jurors were often deterred from convicting palpably guilty men offirst-degree murder under mandatory statutes.26 Thereafter, continuing evidenceof jury reluctance to convict persons of capital offenses in mandatory deathpenalty jurisdictions resulted in legislative authorization of discretionary jurysentencing by Congress for federal crimes in 1897,27 by North Carolina in1949,28 and by Congress for the District of Columbia in 1962.29

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30 As we have noted today in Gregg v. Georgia, ante, 428 U.S., at 179-181, 96S.Ct., at 2928-2929, legislative measures adopted by the people's chosenrepresentatives weigh heavily in ascertaining contemporary standards ofdecency. The consistent course charted by the state legislatures and byCongress since the middle of the past century demonstrates that the aversion ofjurors to mandatory death penalty statutes is shared by society at large.30

31 Still further evidence of the incompatibility of mandatory death penalties withcontemporary values is provided by the results of jury sentencing underdiscretionary statutes. In Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770,20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), the Court observed that "one of the most importantfunctions any jury can perform" in exercising its discretion to choose "betweenlife imprisonment and capital punishment" is "to maintain a link betweencontemporary community values and the penal system." Id., at 519, and n. 15,88 S.Ct., at 1775. Various studies indicate that even in first-degree murdercases juries with sentencing discretion do not impose the death penalty "withany great frequency." H. Kalven & H. Zeisel, The American Jury 436 (1966).31

The actions of sentencing juries suggest that under contemporary standardsfdecency death is viewed as an inappropriate punishment for a substantialportion of convicted first-degree murderers.

32 Although the Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of mandatory deathpenalty statutes, on several occasions dating back to 1899 it has commentedupon our society's aversion to automatic death sentences. In Winston v. UnitedStates, 172 U.S. 303, 19 S.Ct. 212, 43 L.Ed. 456 (1899), the Court noted thatthe "hardship of punishing with death every crime coming within the definitionof murder at common law, and the reluctance of jurors to concur in a capitalconviction, have induced American legislatures, in modern times, to allowsome cases of murder to be punished by imprisonment, instead of by death."Id., at 310, 19 S.Ct., at 214.32 Fifty years after Winston, the Court underscoredthe marked transformation in our attitudes toward mandatory sentences: "Thebelief no longer prevails that every offense in a like legal category calls for anidentical punishment without regard to the past life and habits of a particularoffender. This whole country has traveled far from the period in which thedeath sentence was an automatic and commonplace sult of convictions . . . ."Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 247, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 1083, 93 L.Ed. 1337(1949).

33 More recently, the Court in McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 91 S.Ct.1454, 28 L.Ed.2d 711 (1971), detailed the evolution of discretionary impositionof death sentences in this country, prompted by what it termed the American"rebellion against the common-law rule imposing a mandatory death sentence

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on all convicted murderers." Id., at 198, 91 S.Ct., at 1462. See Id., at 198-202,91 S.Ct., at 1462-1465. Perhaps the one important factor about evolving socialvalues regarding capital punishment upon which the Members of the FurmanCourt agreed was the accuracy of McGautha's assessment of our Nation'srejection of mandatory death sentences. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at245-246, 92 S.Ct., at 2729-2730 (Douglas, J., concurring); Id., at 297-298, 92S.Ct., at 2756-2757 (Brennan, J., concurring); Id., at 339, 92 S.Ct., at 2777(Marshall, J., concurring); Id., at 402-403, 92 S.Ct., at 2810-2811 (Burger, C.J., with whom Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined, dissenting); Id., at413, 92 S.Ct., at 2815 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). Mr. Justice Blackmun, forexample, emphasized that legislation requiring an automatic death sentence forspecified crimes would be "regressive and of an antique mold" and would marka return to a "point in our criminology (passed beyond) long ago." Ibid. TheChief Justice, speaking for the four dissenting Justices in Furman, discussedthe question of mandatory death sentences at some length:

34 "I had thought that nothing was clearer in history, as we noted in McGautha oneyear ago, than the American abhorrence of 'the common-law rule imposing amandatory death sentence on all convicted murderers.' 402 U.S., at 198, 91S.Ct., at 1462. As the concurring opinion of Mr. Justice Marshall shows, (408U.S.,) at (339, 92 S.Ct. at) 2777, the 19th century movement away frommandatory death sentences marked an enlightened introduction of flexibilityinto the sentencing process. It recognized that individual culpability is notalways measured by the category of the ime committed. This change insentencing practice was greeted by the Court as a humanizing development.See Winston v. United States, 172 U.S. 303, 19 S.Ct. 212, 43 L.Ed. 456 (1899);cf. Calton v. Utah, 130 U.S. 83, 9 S.Ct. 435, 32 L.Ed. 870 (1889). See alsoAndres v. United States, 333 U.S. 740, 753, 68 S.Ct. 880, 886, 92 L.Ed. 1055(1948) (Frankfurter, J., concurring)." Id., at 402, 92 S.Ct., at 2810.

35 Although it seems beyond dispute that, at the time of the Furman decision in1972, mandatory death penalty statutes had been renounced by American juriesand legislatures, there remains the question whether the mandatory statutesadopted by North Carolina and a number of other States following Furmanevince a sudden reversal of societal values regarding the imposition of capitalpunishment. In view of the persistent and unswerving legislative rejection ofmandatory death penalty statutes beginning in 1838 and continuing for morethan 130 years until Furman,33 it seems evident that the post-Furmanenactments reflect attempts by the States to retain the death penalty in a formconsistent with the Constitution, rather than a renewed societal acceptance ofmandatory death sentencing.34 The fact that some States have adopted ndatorymeasures following Furman while others have legislated standards to guide jury

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discretion appears attributable to diverse readings of this Court's multi-opinioned decision in that case.35

36 A brief examination of the background of the current North Carolina statuteserves to reaffirm our assessment of its limited utility as an indicator ofcontemporary values regarding mandatory death sentences. Before 1949, NorthCarolina imposed a mandatory death sentence on any person convicted of rapeor first-degree murder. That year, a study commission created by the statelegislature recommended that juries be granted discretion to recommend lifesentences in all capital cases:

37 "We propose that a recommendation of mercy by the jury in capital casesautomatically carry with it a life sentence. Only three other states now have themandatory death penalty and we believe its retention will be definitely harmful.Quite frequently, juries refuse to convict for rape or first degree murderbecause, from all the circ*mstances, they do not believe the defendant,although guilty, should suffer death. The result is that verdicts are returnedhardly in harmony with evidence. Our proposal is already in effect in respect tothe crimes of burglary and arson. There is much testimony that it has provedbeneficial in such cases. We think the law can now be broadened to include allcapital crimes." Report of the Special Commission For the Improvement of theAdministration of Justice, North Carolina, Popular Government 13 (Jan.1949).

38 The 1949 session of the General Assembly of North Carolina adopted theproposed modifications of its rape and murder statutes. Although in subsequentyears numerous bills were introduced in the legislature to limit further orabolish the death penalty in North Carolina, they were rejected as were two1969 proposals to return to mandatory death sentences for all capital offenses.See State v. Waddell, 282 N.C., at 441, 194 S.E.2d, at 26 (opinion of the court);Id., at 456-457, 194 S.E.2d, at 32-33 (Bobbitt, C. J., concurring in part anddissenting in part).

39 As noted, Supra, at 285-286, when the Supreme Court of North Carolinaanalyzed the constitutionality of the State's death penalty statute following thisCourt's decision in Furman, it severed the 1949 proviso authorizing jurysentencing discretion and held that "the remainder of the statute with death asthe mandatory punishment . . . remains in full force and effect." State v.Waddell, supra, at 444-445, 194 S.E.2d, at 28. The North Carolina GeneralAssembly then followed the course found constitutional in Waddell andenacted a first-degree murder provision identical to the mandatory statute inoperation prior to the authorization of jury discretion. The State's brief in thiscase relates that the legislature sought to remove "All sentencing discretion (so

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that) there could be no successful Furman based attack on the North Carolinastatute." It is now well established that the Eighth Amendment draws much ofits meaning from "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of amaturing society." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S., at 101, 78 S.Ct., at 598 (pluralityopinion). As the above discussion makes clear, one of the most significantdevelopments in our society's treatment of capital punishment has been therejection of the common-law practice of inexorably imposing a death sentenceupon every person convicted of a specified offense. North Carolina's mandatorydeath penalty statute for first-degree murder departs markedly fromcontemporary standards respecting the imposition of the punishment of deathand thus cannot be applied consistently with the Eighth and FourteenthAmendments' requirement that the State's power to punish "be exercised withinthe limits of civilized standards." Id., at 100, 78 S.Ct., at 598.36

40 A separate deficiency of North Carolina's mandatory death sentence statute isits failure to provide a constitutionally tolerable response to Furman's rejectionof unbridled jury discretion in the imposition of capital sentences. Central to thelimited holding in Furman was the conviction that the vesting of standardlesssentencing power in the jury violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at 309-310, 92 S.Ct., at 2762-2763 (Stewart,J., concurring); Id., at 313, 92 S.Ct., at 2764 (White, J., concurring); cf. Id., at253-257, 92 S.Ct., at 2733-2736 (Douglas, J., concurring). See also Id., at 398-399, 92 S.Ct., at 2808-2809 (Burger, C. J., dissenting). It is argued that NorthCarolina has remedied the inadequacies of the death penalty statutes heldunconstitutional in Furman by withdrawing all sentencing discretion from juriesin capital cases. But when one considers the long and consistent Americanexperience with the death penalty in first-degree murder cases, it becomesevident that mandatory statutes enacted in response to Furman have simplypapered over the problem of unguided and unchecked jury discretion.

41 As we have noted in Part III-A, Supra, there is general agreement thatAmerican juries have persistently refused to convict a significant portion ofpersons charged with first-degree murder of that offense under mandatory deathpenalty statutes. The North Carolina study commission, Supra, at 299-300,reported that juries in that State "(q)uite frequently" were deterred fromrendering guilty verdicts of first-degree murder because of the enormity of thesentence automatically imposed. Moreover, as a matter of historic fact, juriesoperating under discretionary sentencing statutes have consistently returneddeath sentences in only a minority of first-degree murder cases.37 In view of thehistoric record, it is only reasonable to assume that many juries under

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mandatory statutes will continue to consider the grave consequences of aconviction in reaching a verdict. North Carolina's mandatory death penaltystatute provides no standards to guide the jury in its inevitable exercise of thepower to determine which first-degree murderers shall live and which shall die.And there is no way under the North Carolina law for the judiciary to checkarbitrary and capricious exercise of that power through a review of deathsentences.38 Instead of rationalizing the sentencing process, a mandatoryscheme may well exacerbate the problem identified in Furman by resting thepenalty determination on the particular jury's willingness to act lawlessly.While a mandatory death penalty statute may reasonably be expected toincrease the number of persons sentenced to death, it does not fulfill Furman'sbasic requirement by replacing arbitrary and wanton jury discretion withobjective standards to guide, regularize, and make rationally reviewable theprocess for imposing a sentence of death.

42 A third constitutional shortcoming of the North Carolina statute is its failure toallow the particularized consideration of relevant aspects of the character andrecord of each convicted defendant before the imposition upon him of asentence of death. In Furman, members of the Court acknowledge what cannotfairly be denied that death is a punishment different from all other sanctions inkind rather than degree. See 408 U.S., at 286-291, 92 S.Ct., at 2750-2753(Brennan, J., concurring);Id., at 306, 92 S.Ct., at 2760 (Stewart, J., concurring).A process that accords no significance to relevant facets of the character andrecord of the individual offender or the circ*mstances of the particular offenseexcludes from consideration in fixing the ultimate punishment of death thepossibility of compassionate or mitigating factors stemming from the diversefrailties of humankind. It treats all persons convicted of a designated offensenot as uniquely individual human beings, but as members of a faceless,undifferentiated mass to be subjected to the blind infliction of the penalty ofdeath.

43 This Court has previously recognized that "(f)or the determination of sentences,justice generally requires consideration of more than the particular acts bywhich the crime was committed and that there be taken into account thecirc*mstances of the offense together with the character and propensities of theoffender." Pennsylvania ex rel. Sullivan v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51, 55, 58 S.Ct. 59,61, 82 L.Ed. 43 (1937). Consideration of both the offender and the offense inorder to arrive at a just and appropriate sentence has been viewed as aprogressive and humanizing development. See Williams v. New York, 337U.S., at 247-249, 69 S.Ct., at 1083-1084; Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at 402-

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403, 92 S.Ct., at 2810-2811 (Burger, C. J., dissenting). While the prevailingpractice of individualizing sentencing determinations generally reflects simplyenlightened policy rather than a constitutional imperative, we believe that incapital cases the fundamental respect for humanity underlying the EighthAmendment, see Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S., at 100, 78 S.Ct., at 597 (pluralityopinion), requires consideration of the character and record of the individualoffender and the circ*mstances of the particular offense as a constitutionallyindispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death.

44 This conclusion rests squarely on the predicate that the penalty of death isqualitatively different from a sentence of imprisonment, however long. Death,in its finality, differs more from life imprisonment than a 100-year prison termdiffers from one of only a year or two. Because of that qualitative difference,there is a corresponding difference in the need for reliability in thedetermination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case.39

45 For the reasons stated, we conclude that the death sentences imposed upon thepetitioners under North Carolina's mandatory death sentence statute violated theEighth and Fourteenth Amendments and therefore must be set aside.40 Thejudgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina is reversed insofar as itupheld the death sentences imposed upon the petitioners, and the case isremanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

46 It is so ordered.

47 Mr. Justice BRENNAN, concurring in the judgment.

48 For the reasons stated in my dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S.153, 227, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2971, 49 L.Ed.2d 859, I concur in the judgment thatsets aside the death sentences imposed under the North Carolina death sentenstatute as violative of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

49 Mr. Justice MARSHALL, concurring in the judgment.

50 For the reasons stated in my dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S.153, 231, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2973, 49 L.Ed.2d 859, I am of the view that the deathpenalty is a cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth andFourteenth Amendments. I therefore concur in the Court's judgment.

51 Mr. Justice WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice

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REHNQUIST join, dissenting.

52 Following Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346(1972), the North Carolina Supreme Court considered the effect of that case onthe North Carolina criminal statutes which imposed the death penalty for first-degree murder and other crimes but which provided that "if at the time ofrendering its verdict in open court, the jury shall so recommend, the punishmentshall be imprisonment for life in the State's prison, and the court shall soinstruct the jury." State v. Waddell, 282 N.C. 431, 194 S.E.2d 19 (1973),determined that Furman v. Georgia invalidated only the proviso giving the jurythe power to limit the penalty to life imprisonment and that thenceforwarddeath was the mandatory penalty for the specified capital crimes. ThereafterN.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-17 was amended to eliminate the express dispensing powerof the jury and to add kidnaping to the underlying felonies for which death isthe specified penalty. As amended in 1974, the section reads as follows:

53 "A murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait,imprisonment, starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate andpremeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attemptto perpetrate any arson, rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary or other felony,shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree and shall be punished withdeath. All other kis of murder shall be deemed murder in the second degree,and shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not less than two years normore than life imprisonment in the State's prison."

54 It was under this statute that the petitioners in this case were convicted of first-degree murder and the mandatory death sentences imposed.

55 The facts of record and the proceedings in this case leading to petitioners'convictions for first-degree murder and their death sentences appear in theopinion of Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. JusticeSTEVENS. The issues in the case are very similar, if not identical, to those inRoberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 96 S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974. For thereasons stated in my dissenting opinion in that case, I reject petitioners'arguments that the death penalty in any circ*mstances is a violation of theEighth Amendment and that the North Carolina statute, although making theimposition of the death penalty mandatory upon proof of guilt and a verdict offirst-degree murder, will nevertheless result in the death penalty being imposedso seldom and arbitrarily that it is void under Furman v. Georgia. As is alsoapparent from my dissenting opinion in Roberts v. Louisiana, I also disagreewith the two additional grounds which the plurality Sua sponte offers forinvalidating the North Carolina statute. I would affirm the judgment of the

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North Carolina Supreme Court.

56 Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, dissenting.

57 I dissent for the reasons set forth in my dissent in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S.238, 405-414, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 2811-2817, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972) and in theother dissenting opinions I joined in that case. Id., at 375, 4, and 465, 92 S.Ct.,at 2796, 2816 and 2841.

58 Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, dissenting.

59 * The difficulties which attend the plurality's explanation for the result itreaches tend at first to obscure difficulties at least as significant which inhere inthe unarticulated premises necessarily underlying that explanation. I advert tothe latter only briefly, in order to devote the major and following portion of thisdissent to those issues which the plurality actually considers.

60 As an original proposition, it is by no means clear that the prohibition againstcruel and unusual punishments embodied in the Eighth Amendment, and madeapplicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, Robinson v. California,370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962), was not limited to thosepunishments deemed cruel and unusual at the time of the adoption of the Bill ofRights. McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 225, 91 S.Ct. 1454, 1476, 28L.Ed.2d 711 (1971) (opinion of Black, J.). If Weems v. United States, 217 U.S.349, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793 (1910), dealing not with the EighthAmendment but with an identical provision contained in the PhilippineConstitution, and the plurality opinion in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 78 S.Ct.590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (1958), are to be taken as indicating the contrary, theyshould surely be weighed against statements in cases such as Wilkerson v.Utah, 99 U.S. 130, 25 L.Ed. 345 (1879); In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 10 S.Ct.930, 34 L.Ed. 519 (1890); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459,464, 67 S.Ct. 374, 376, 91 L.Ed. 422 (1947), and the plurality opinion in Tropitself, that the infliction of capital punishment is not in itself violative of theCruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Thus for the plurality to begin itsanalysis with the assumption that it need only demonstrate that "evolvingstandards of decency" show that contemporary "society" has rejected suchprovisions is itself a somewhat shaky point of departure. But even if theassumption be conceded, the plurality opinion's analysis nonetheless founders.

61 The plurality relies first upon its conclusion that society has turned away fromthe mandatory imposition of death sentences, and second upon its conclusion

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that the North Carolina system has "simply papered over" the problem ofunbridled jury discretion which two of the separate opinions in Furman v.Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972), identified as thebasis for the judgment rendering the death sentences there reviewedunconstitutional. The third "constitutional shortcoming" of the North Carolinastatute is said to be "its failure to allow the particularized consideration ofrelevant aspects of the character and record of each convicted defendant beforethe imposition upon him of a sentence of death." Ante, at 303.

62 I do not believe that any one of these reasons singly, or all of them together, canwithstand careful analysis. Contrary to the plurality's assertions, they wouldimport into the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause proceduralrequirements which find no support in our cases. Their application will result inthe invalidation of a death sentence imposed upon a defendant convicted offirst-degree murder under the North Carolina system, and the upholding of thesame sentence imposed on an identical defendant convicted on identicalevidence of first-degree murder under the Florida, Georgia, or Texas systems aresult surely as "freakish" as that condemned in the separate opinions inFurman.

63 The plurality is simply mistaken in its assertion that "(t)he history of mandatorydeath penalty statutes in the United States thus reveals that the practice ofsentencing to death all persons convicted of a particular offense has beenrejected as unduly harsh and unworkably rigid." Ante, at 292-293. Thisconclusion is purported based on two historic developments: the first a series oflegislative decisions during the 19th century narrowing the class of offensespunishable by death; the second a series of legislative decisions during both the19th and 20th centuries, through which mandatory imposition of the deathpenalty largely gave way to jury discretion in deciding whether or not to imposethis ultimate sanction. The first development may have some relevance to theplurality's argument in general but has no bearing at all upon this case. Thesecond development, properly analyzed, has virtually no relevance even to theplurality's argument.

64 There can be no question that the legislative and other materials discussed inthe plurality's opinion show a widespread conclusion on the part of statelegislatures during the 19th century that the penalty of death was being requiredfor too broad a range of crimes, and that these legislatures proceeded to narrowthe range of crimes for which such penalty could be imposed. If this caseinvolved the imposition of the death penalty for an offense such as burglary or

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sodomy, see Ante, at 289, the virtually unanimous trend in the legislatures ofthe States to exclude such offenders from liability for capital punishment mightbear on the plurality's Eighth Amendment argument. But petitioners wereconvicted of first-degree murder, and there is not the slightest suggestion in thematerial relied upon by the plurality that there had been any turning away at all,much less any such unanimous turning away, from the death penalty as apunishment for those guilty of first-degree murder. The legislative narrowing ofthe spectrum of capital crimes, therefore, while very arguably representing ageneral societal judgment since the trend was so widespread, simply neverreached far enough to exclude the sort of aggravated homicide of whichpetitioners stand convicted.

65 The second string to the plurality's analytical bow is that legislative changefrom mandatory to discretionary imposition of the death sentence likewiseevidences societal rejection of mandatory death penalties. The plurality simplydoes not make out this part of its case, however, in large part because it treats asbeing of equal dignity with legislative judgments the judgments of particularjuries and of individual jurors.

66 There was undoubted dissatisfaction, from more than one sector of 19th centurysociety, with the operation of mandatory death sentences. One segment of thatsociety was totally opposed to capital punishment, and was apparently willingto accept the substitution of discretionary imposition of that penalty for itsmandatory imposition as a halfway house on the road to total abolition. Anothersegment was equally unhappy with the operation of the mandatory system, butfor an entirely different reason. As the plurality recognizes, this second segmentof society was unhappy with the operation of the mandatory system, notbecause of the death sentences imposed under it, but because people obviouslyguilty of criminal offenses were Not being convicted under it. See Ante, at 293.Change to a discretionary system was accepted by these persons not becausethey thought mandatory imposition of the death penalty was cruel and unusual,but because they thought that if jurors were permitted to return a sentence otherthan death upon the conviction of a capital crime, fewer guilty defendantswould be acquitted. See McGautha, 402 U.S., at 199, 91 S.Ct., at 1463.

67 So far as the action of juries is concerned, the fact that in some cases juriesoperating under the mandatory system refused to convict obviously guiltydefendants does not reflect any "turning away" from the death penalty, or themandatory death penalty, supporting the proposition that it is "cruel andunusual." Given the requirement of unanimity with respect to jury verdicts incapital cases, a requirement which prevails today in States which accept anonunanimous verdict in the case of other crimes, see Johnson v. Louisiana,

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406 U.S 356, 363-364, 92 S.Ct. 1620, 1625-1626, 32 L.Ed.2d 152 (1972), it isapparent that a single juror could prevent a jury from returning a verdict ofconviction. Occasional refusals to convict, therefore, may just as easily haverepresented the intransigence of only a small minority of 12 jurors as well asthe unanimous judgment of all 12. The fact that the presence of such jurorscould prevent conviction in a given case, even though the majority of society,speaking through legislatures, had decreed that it should be imposed, certainlydoes not indicate that society as a whole rejected mandatory punishment forsuch offenders; it does not even indicate that those few members of society whoserve on juries, as a whole, had done so.

68 The introduction ofdiscretionary sentencing likewise creates no inference thatcontemporary society had rejected the mandatory system as unduly severe.Legislatures enacting discretionary sentencing statutes had no reason to thinkthat there would not be roughly the same number of capital convictions underthe new system as under the old. The same subjective juror responses whichresulted in juror nullification under the old system were legitimized, but in theabsence of those subjective responses to a particular set of facts, a capitalsentence could as likely be anticipated under the discretionary system as underthe mandatory. And at least some of those who would have been acquittedunder the mandatory system would be subjected to at least Some punishmentunder the discretionary system, rather than escaping altogether a penalty for thecrime of which they were guilty. That society was unwilling to accept theparadox presented to it by the actions of some maverick juries or jurors theacquittal of palpably guilty defendants hardly reflects the sort of an "evolvingstandard decency" to which the plurality professes obeisance.

69 Nor do the opinions in Furman which indicate a preference for discretionarysentencing in capital cases suggest in the slightest that a mandatory sentencingprocedure would be cruel and unusual. The plurality concedes, as it must, thatfollowing Furman 10 States enacted laws providing for mandatory capitalpunishment. See State Capital Punishment Statutes Enacted Subsequent toFurman v. Georgia, Congressional Research Service Pamphlet 17-22 (June 19,1974). These enactments the plurality seeks to explain as due to a wrongheadedreading of the holding in Furman. But this explanation simply does not wash.While those States may be presumed to have preferred their prior systemsreposing sentencing discretion in juries or judges, they indisputably preferredmandatory capital punishment to no capital punishment at all. Their willingnessto enact statutes providing that penalty is utterly inconsistent with the notionthat they regarded mandatory capital sentencing as beyond "evolving standardsof decency." The plurality's glib rejection of These legislative decisions ashaving little weight on the scale which it finds in the Eighth Amendment seems

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to me more an instance of its desire to save the people from themselves than aconscientious effort to ascertain the content of any "evolving standard ofdecency."

70 The second constitutional flaw which the plurality finds in North Carolina'smandatory system is that it has simply "papered over" the problem ofunchecked jury discretion. The plurality states, ante, at 302, that "there isgeneral agreement that American juries have persistently refused to convict asignifica portion of persons charged with first-degree murder of that offenseunder mandatory death penalty statutes." The plurality also states, Ante, at 303,that "as a matter of historic fact, juries operating under discretionary sentencingstatutes have consistently returned death sentences in only a minority of first-degree murder cases." The basic factual assumption of the plurality seems to bethat for any given number of first-degree murder defendants subject to capitalpunishment, there will be a certain number of jurors who will be unwilling toimpose the death penalty even though they are entirely satisfied that thenecessary elements of the substantive offense are made out.

71 In North Carolina jurors unwilling to impose the death penalty may simplyhang a jury or they may so assert themselves that a verdict of not guilty isbrought in; in Louisiana they will have a similar effect in causing some juries tobring in a verdict of guilty of a lesser included offense even though all the jurorsare satisfied that the elements of the greater offense are made out. Such jurors,of course, are violating their oath, but such violation is not only consistent withthe majority's hypothesis; the majority's hypothesis is bottomed on itsoccurrence.

72 For purposes of argument, I accept the plurality's hypothesis; but it seems to meimpossible to conclude from it that a mandatory death sentence statute such asNorth Carolina enacted is any less sound constitutionally than are the systemsenacted by Georgia, Florida, and Texas which the Court upholds.

73 In Georgia juries are entitled to return a sentence of life, rather than death, forno reason whatever, simply based upon their own subjective notions of what isright and what is wrong. In Florida the judge and jury are requed to weighlegislatively enacted aggravating factors against legislatively enacted mitigatingfactors, and then base their choice between life or death on an estimate of theresult of that weighing. Substantial discretion exists here, too, though it issomewhat more canalized than it is in Georgia. Why these types of discretionare regarded by the plurality as constitutionally permissible, while that which

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may occur in the North Carolina system is not, is not readily apparent. Thefreakish and arbitrary nature of the death penalty described in the separateconcurring opinions of Justices Stewart, and White in Furman arose not fromthe perception that so Many capital sentences were being imposed but from theperception that so Few were bring imposed. To conclude that the NorthCarolina system is bad because juror nullification may permit jury discretionwhile concluding that the Georgia and Florida systems are sound because theyRequire this same discretion, is, as the plurality opiniondemonstrates,inexplicable.

74 The Texas system much more closely approximates themandatory NorthCarolina system which is struck down today. The jury is required to answerthree statutory questions. If the questions are unanimously answered in theaffirmative, the death penalty Must be imposed. It is extremely difficult to seehow this system can be any less subject to the infirmities caused by jurornullification which the plurality concludes are fatal to North Carolina's statute.Justices STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS apparently think they cansidestep this inconsistency because of their belief that one of the three questionswill permit consideration of mitigating factors justifying imposition of a lifesentence. It is, however, as those Justices recognize, Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S.262, at 272273, 96 Ct. 2950, at 2956-2957, 49 L.Ed.2d 929, far from clear thatthe statute is to be read in such a fashion. In any event, while the imposition ofsuch unlimited consideration of mitigating factors may conform to theplurality's novel constitutional doctrine that "(a) jury must be allowed toconsider on the basis of all relevant evidence not only why a death sentenceshould be imposed, but also why it should not be imposed," 428 U.S., at 271,96 S.Ct., at 2956, the resulting system seems as likely as any to produce theunbridled discretion which wascondemned by the separate opinions in Furman.

75 The plurality seemsto believe, see Ante, at 303, that provision for appellatereview will afford a check upon the instances of juror arbitrariness in adiscretionary system. But it is not at all apparent that appellate review of deathsentences, through a process of comparing the facts of one case in which adeath sentence was imposed with the facts of another in which such a sentencewas imposed, will afford any meaningful protection against whateverarbitrariness results from jury discretion. All that such review of deathsentences can provide is a comparison of fact situations which must in theirnature be highly particularized if not unique, and the only relief which it canafford is to single out the occasional death sentence which in the view of thereviewing court does not conform to the standards established by thelegislature.

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76 It is established,of course, that there is no right to appellate review of a criminalsentence. McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684, 14 S.Ct. 913, 38 L.Ed. 867(1894). That question is not at issue here, since North Carolina, along with withthe other four States whose systems the petitioners are challenging in thesecases, provides appellate review for a death sentence imposed in one of its trialcourts.

77 By definition, of course, there can be no separate appellate review of the factualbasis for the sentencing decision in a mandatory system. If it is once establishedin a fairly conducted trial that the defendant has in fact committed the crime inquestion, the only question as to the sentence which can be raised on appeal iswhether a legislative determination that such a crime should be punished bydeath violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the EighthAmendment. Here both petitioners were convicted of first-degree murder, andthere is no serious question raised by the plurality that death is not aconstitutionally permissible penalty for such a crime.

78 But the plurality sees another role for appellate review in its description of thereasons why the Georgia, Texas, and Florida systems are upheld, and the NorthCarolina system struck down. And it is doubtless true that Georgia in particularhas made a substantial effort to respond to the concerns expressed in Furman,not an easy task considering the glossolalial manner in which those concernswere expressed. The Georgia Supreme Court has indicated that the Georgiadeath penalty statute requires it to review death sentences imposed by juries onthe basis of rough "proportionality." It has announced that it will not sustain, atleast at the present time, death penalties imposed for armed robbery becausethat penalty is so seldom imposed by juries for that offense. It has alsoindicated that it will not sustain death penalties imposed for rape in certain factsituations, because the death penalty has been so seldom imposed on factssimilar to those situations.

79 But while the Georgia response may be an admirable oneas a matter of policy,it has imperfections, if a failure to conform completely to the dictates of theseparate opinions in Furman be deemed imperfections, which the opinion ofJustices STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS does not point out. Althoughthere may be some disagreement between that opinion, and the opinion of myBrother White in Gregg v. Georgia, which I have joined, as to whether theproportionality review conducted by the Supreme Court of Georgia is basedsolely upon capital sentences imposed, or upon all sentences imposed in caseswhere a capital sentence could have been imposed by law, I shall assume forthe purposes of this discussion that the system contemplates the latter. But this

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is still far from a guarantee of any equality in sentencing, and is likewise noguarantee against juror nullification. Under the Georgia system, the jury is freeto recommend life imprisonment, as opposed to death, for no stated reasonwhatever. The Georgia Supreme Court cannot know, therefore, when it isreviewing jury sentences for life in capital cases, whether the jurors foundaggravating circ*mstances present, but nonetheless decided to recommendmercy, or instead found no aggravating circ*mstances at all and opted formercy. So the "proportionality" type of review, while it would perhaps achieveits objective if there were no possible factual lacunae in the jury verdicts, willnot achieve its objective because there are necessarily such lacunae.

80 Identical defects seem inherent in the systems of appellate review provided inTexas and Florida, for neither requires the sentencing authority whichconcludes that a death penalty is inappropriate to state what mitigating factorswere found to be present or whether certain aggravating factors urged by theprosecutor were actually found to be lacking. Without such detailed factualfindings Justices STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS praise of appellatereview as a cure for the constitutional infirmities which they identify seems tome somewhatforced.

81 Appellate review affords no correction whatever with respect to those fortunatefew who are the beneficiaries of random discretion exercised by juries, whetherunder an admittedly discretionary system or under a purportedly ndatorysystem. It may make corrections at one end of the spectrum, but cannot at theother. It is even less clear that any provision of the Constitution can be read torequire such appellate review. If the States wish to undertake such an effort,they are undoubtedly free to do so, but surely it is notrequired by the UnitedStates Constitution.

82 The plurality'sinsistence on "standards" to "guide the jury in its inevitableexercise of the power to determine which . . . murderers shall live and whichshall die" is squarely contrary to the Court's opinion in McGautha v. California,402 U.S. 183, 91 S.Ct. 1454, 28 L.Ed.2d 711 (1971), written by Mr. JusticeHarlan and subscribed to by five other Members of the Court only five yearsago. So is the plurality's latter-day recognition, some four years after thedecision of the case, that Furman requires "objective standards to guide,regularize, and make rationally reviewable the process for imposing a sentenceof death." Its abandonment of stare decisis In this repudiation of McGautha is afar lesser mistake than its substitution of a superficial and contrivedconstitutional doctrine for the genuine wisdom contained in McGautha. Therethe Court addressed the"standardless discretion" contention in this language:

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83 "In our view, such force as this argument has derives largely from its generality.Those who have come to grips with the hard task of actually attempting to draftmeans for channeling capital sentencing discretion have confirmed the lessontaught by the history recounted above. To identify before the fact thosecharacteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for thedeath penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can befairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be taskswhich are beyond present human ability.

84 "Thus the British Home Office, which before the recent abolition of capitalpunishment in that country had the responsibility for selecting the cases fromEngland and Wales which should receive the benefit of the Royal Prerogativeof Mercy, observed:

85 " 'The difficulty of defining by any statutory provision the types of murderwhich ought or ought not to be punished by death may be illustrated byreference to the many diverse considerations to which the Home Secretary hasregard in deciding whether to recommend clemency. No simple formula cantake account of the innumerable degrees of culpability, and no formula whichfails to do so can claim to be just or satisfy public opinion.' 1-2 RoyalCommission on Capital Punishment, Minutes of Evidence 13 (1949)." 402 U.S.,at 204-205, 91 S.Ct., at1466.

86 "In light of history, experience, and the present limitations of humanknowledge, we find it quite impossible to say that committing to theuntrammeled discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death incapital cases is offensive to anything in the Constitution. The States are entitledto assume that jurors confronted with the truly awesome responsibility ofdecreeing death for a fellow human will act with due regard for theconsequences of their decision and will consider a variety of factors, many ofwhich will have been suggested by the evidence or by the arguments of defensecounsel. For a court to attempt to catalog the appropriate factors in this elusivearea could inhibit rather than expand the scope of consideration, for no list ofcirc*mstances would ever be really complete. The infinite variety of cases andfacets to each case would make general standards either meaningless 'boiler-plate' or a statement of the obvious that no jury would need." Id., at 207-208, 91S.Ct., at1467 (citation omitted).

87 It is also worth noting that the plurality opinion repudiates not only the viewexpressed by the Court in McGautha, but also, as noted in McGautha, the viewwhich had been adhered to by every other American jurisdiction which had

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considered the question. See Id., at 196 n. 8,91 S.Ct., at 1461.

88 The plurality opinion's insistence, in Part III-C, that if the death penalty is to beimposed there must be "particularized consideration of relevant aspects of thecharacter and record of each convicted defendant" is buttressed by neither caseauthority nor reason. Its principal claim to distinction is that it contradictsimportant parts of Part III-A in the same opinion.

89 Part III-A, which describes what itconceives to have been society's turningaway from the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, purports to expressno opinion as to the constitutionality of a mandatory statute for "an extremelynarrow category of homicide, such as murder by a prisoner serving a lifesentence." See Ante, at 287 n. 7. Yet if "particularized consideration" is to berequired in every case under the doctrine expressed in Part III-C, such areservation in PartIII-A is disingenuous at best.

90 None of the cases half-heartedly cited by the plurality in Part III-C comeswithin a light-year of establishing the proposition that individualizedconsideration is a constitutional requisite for the imposition of the deathpenalty. Pennsylvania ex rel. Sullivan v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51, 58 S.Ct. 59, 82L.Ed. 43 (1937), upheld against a claim of violation of the Equal ProtectionClause a Pennsylvania statute which made the sentence imposed upon a convictbreaking out of a penitentiary dependent upon the length of the term which hewas serving at the time of the break. In support of its conclusion thatPennsylvania had not denied the convict equal protection, the Court observed:

91 "The comparative gravity ofcriminal offenses and whether their consequencesare more or less injurious are matters for (the State's) determination. . . . It mayinflict a deserved penalty merely to vindicate the law or to deter or to reformthe offender or for all of these purposes. For the determination of sentences,justice generally requires consideration of more than the particular acts bywhich the crime was committed and that there be taken into account thecirc*mstances of the offense together with the character and propensities of theoffender. His past may be taken to indicate his present purposes and tendenciesand significantly to suggest the period of restraint and the kind of discipline thatought to be imposed upon him." Id., at 55, 58 S.Ct., at 60.

92 These words of Mr. Justice Butler, speaking for the Court in that case, andthose of Mr. Justice Black in Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 69 S.Ct.

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1079, 93 L.Ed. 1337 (1949), the other opinion relied on by the plurality, lendno support whatever to the principle that the Constitution requiresindividualized consideration. This is not surprising, since even if such adoctrine had respectable support, which it has not, it is unlikely that either Mr.Justice Butler or Mr.Justice Black would have embraced it.

93 The plurality also reliesupon the indisputable proposition that "death isdifferent" for the result which it reaches in Part III-C. But the respects in whichdeath is "different" from other punishment which may be imposed uponconvicted criminals do not seem to me to establish the proposition that theConstitution requiresindividualized sentencing.

94 One of the principal reasons why deathis different is because it is irreversible;an executed defendant cannot be brought back to life. This aspect of thedifference between death and other penalties would undoubtedly supportstatutory provisions for specially careful review of the fairness of the trial, theaccuracy of the factfinding process, and the fairness of the sentencingprocedure where the death penalty is imposed. But none of those aspects of thedeath sentence is at issue here. Petitioners were found guilty of the crime offirst-degree murder in a trial the constitutional validity of which isunquestioned here. And since the punishment of death is conceded by theplurality not to be a cruel and unusual punishment for such a crime, theirreversible aspect of the death penalty has no connection whatever with anyrequirement for individualizedconsideration of the sentence.

95 The second aspect of the deathpenalty which makes it "different" from otherpenalties is the fact that it is indeed an ultimate penalty, which ends a humanlife rather than simply requiring that a living human being be confined for agiven period of time in a penal institution. This aspect of the difference mayenter into the decision of whether or not it is a "cruel and unusual" penalty for agiven offense. But since in this case the offense was first-degree murder, thatparticular inquiry need proceed no further.

96 The plurality's insistence on individualized consideration of thesentencing,therefore, does not depend upon any traditional application of the prohibitionagainst cruel and unusual punishment contained in the Eighth Amendment. Thepunishment here is concededly not cruel and unusual, and that determinationhas traditionally ended judicial inquiry in our cases construing the Cruel andUnusual Punishments Clause. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 78 S.Ct. 590, 2L.Ed.2d 630 (1958); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 17, 8L.Ed.2d 758 (1962); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459, 67S.Ct. 374, 91 L.Ed.2d 422 (1947); Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130, 25 L.Ed.

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Tucker had been allowed to plead guilty to charges of accessory after the fact tomurder and to armed robbery. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment onthe first charge, and to not less than 20 years nor more than 30 years on thesecond, the sentences to run concurrently.

The solicitor gave no reason for refusing to accept Waxton's offer to pleadguilty to a lesser offense. The Supreme Court of North Carolina, in finding thatthe solicitor had not abused his discretion, noted:

"The evidence that Waxton planned and directed the robbery and that he firedthe shots which killed Mrs. Butler and wounded Mr. Stancil is overwhelming.No extenuating circ*mstances gave the solicitor any incentive to accept theplea he tendered at the close of the State's evidence." 287 N.C. 578, 595-596,215 S.E.2d 607, 618 (1975).

In addition to first-degree murder, both petitioners were found guilty of armedrobbery. Waxton was also found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon withintent to kill, a charge arising from the wounding of the customer.

The murder statute in effect in North Carolina until April 1974 read as follows:

"s 14-17. Murder in the first and second degree defined; punishment. A murderwhich shall be perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, imprisonment,starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditatedkilling, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate

345 (1879). What the plurality opinion has actually done is to import into theDue Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment what it conceives to bedesirable procedural guarantees where the punishment of death, concededly notcruel and unusual for the crime of which the defendant was convicted, is to beimposed. This is squarely contrary to McGautha,and unsupported by any otherdecision of this Court.

97 I agree withthe conclusion of the plurality, and with that of Mr. Justice WHITE,that death is not a cruel and unusual punishment for the offense of which thesepetitioners were convicted. Since no member of the Court suggests that the trialwhich led to those convictions in any way fell short of the standards mandatedby the Constitution, the judgments of conviction should be affirmed. TheFourteenth Amendment, giving the fullest scope to its "majestic generalities,"Fay v. New York, 332 U.S. 261, 282, 67 S.Ct. 1613, 1624, 91 L.Ed. 2043(1947), is conscripted rather than interpreted when used to permit one but notanother systemfor imposition of the death penalty.





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any arson, rape, robbery, burglary or other felony, shall be deemed to bemurder in the first degree and shall be punished with death: Provided, if at thetime of rendering its verdict in open court, the jury shall so recommend, thepunishment shall be imprisonment for life in the State's prison, and the courtshall so instruct the jury. All other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder inthe second degree, and shall be punished with imprisonment of not less thantwo nor more than thirty years in the State's prison." N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-17(1969).

The court characterized the effect of the statute without the invalid provision asfollows:

"Upon the return of a verdict of guilty of any such offense, the court mustpronounce a sentence of death. The punishment to be imposed for these capitalfelonies is no longer a discretionary question for the jury and therefore nolonger a proper subject for an instruction by the judge." 282 N.C., at 445, 194S.E.2d, at 28-29.

North Carolina also has enacted a mandatory death sentence statute for thecrime of first-degree rape. N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-21 (Cum.Supp.1975).

This case does not involve a mandatory death penalty statute limited to anextremely narrow category of homicide, such as murder by a prisoner serving alife sentence, defined in large part in terms of the character or record of theoffender. We thus express no opinion regarding the constitutionality of such astatute. See n. 25, Infra.

The Eighth Amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishments hasbeen held to be applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.See Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962).

The Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33L.Ed.2d 346 (1972), involved statutes providing for jury discretion in theimposition of death sentences. Several members of the Court in Furmanexpressly declined to state their views regarding the constitutionality ofmandatory death sentence statutes. See Id., at 257, 92 S.Ct., at 2735 (Douglas,J., concurring); Id., at 307, 92 S.Ct., at 2761 (Stewart, J., concurring); Id., at310-311, 92 S.Ct., at 2762-2763 (White, J., concurring).

The petitioners here, as in the other four death penalty cases before the Court,contend that their sentences were imposed in violation of the Constitutionbecause North Carolina has failed to eliminate discretion from all phases of itsprocedure for imposing capital punishment. We have rejected similar claimstoday in Gregg, Proffitt, and Jurek. The mandatory nature of the North Carolina






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death penalty statute for first-degree murder presents a different question underthe Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Mr. Justice Frankfurter contended that the Eighth Amendment did not apply tothe States through the Fourteenth Amendment. He believed, however, that theDue Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment itself "expresses a demandfor civilized standards." Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S., at468, 67 S.Ct., at 378 (concurring opinion).

See Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 99, 78 S.Ct. at 597 (plurality opinion) (dictum).See also Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S., at 291, 92 S.Ct., at 2753(Brennan, J., concurring).

See Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 377, 30 S.Ct. 544, 553, 54 L.Ed.793 (1910) (noting that the punishment of Cadena temporal at issue in that casehad "no fellow in American legislation"); Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S.,at 436-437, 92 S.Ct., at 2827-2828 (Powell, J., dissenting); Gregg v. Georgia,supra, 428 U.S., at 179-181, 96 S.Ct., at 2928-2929.

See Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 519, and n. 15, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 1775,20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968); McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 201-202, 91S.Ct. 1454, 1464-1465, 28 L.Ed.2d 711 (1971); Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408U.S., at 388, 92 S.Ct., at 2803 (Burger, C. J., dissenting); Id., at 439-441, 92S.Ct., at 2828-2830 (Powell, J., dissenting) ("Any attempt to discern, therefore,where prevailing standards of decency lie must take careful account of thejury's response to the question of capital punishment").

See H. Bedau, The Death Penalty in America, 5-6, 15, 27-28 (rev. ed. 1967)(hereafter Bedau).

See Id., at 1-2; R. Bye, Capital Punishment in the United States 1-2 (1919)(hereafter Bye).

See Bedau 6; Bye 2-3 (most New England Colonies made 12 offenses capital;Rhode Island, with 10 capital crimes, was the "mildest of all of the colonies");Hartung, Trends in the Use of Capital Punishment, 284 Annals of Am.Academy of Pol. and Soc. Sci. 8, 10 (1952) ("The English colonies in thiscountry had from ten to eighteen capital offenses").

See Bedau 23-24.

See Id., at 27; Knowlton, Problems of Jury Discretion in Capital Cases, 101U.Pa.L.Rev. 1099, 1102 (1953); Mackey, The Inutility of Mandatory CapitalPunishment: An Historical Note, 54 B.U.L.Rev. 32 (1974); McGautha v.










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California, supra, 402 U.S., at 198-199, 91 S.Ct., at 1462-1463; Andres v.United States, 333 U.S. 740, 753, 68 S.Ct. 880, 886, 92 L.Ed. 1055 (1948)(Frankfurter, J., concurring); Winston v. United States, 172 U.S. 303, 310, 19S.Ct. 212, 214, 43 L.Ed. 456 (1899).

See Bye 5. During the colonial period, Pennsylvania in 1682 under the GreatLaw of William Penn limited capital punishment to murder. Following Penn'sdeath in 1718, however, Pennsylvania greatly expanded the number of capitaloffenses. See Hartung, Supra, n. 16, at 9-10.

Many States during the early 19th century significantly reduced the number ofcrimes punishable by death. See Davis, The Movement to Abolish CapitalPunishment in America, 1787-1861, 63 Am.Hist.Rev. 23, 27, and n. 15 (1957).

See Bedau 24.

See Ibid.; Davis, Supra, at 26-27, n. 13. By the late 1950's, some 34 States hadadopted the Pennsylvania formulation, and only 10 States retained a singlecategory of murder as defined at common law. See American Law Institute,Model Penal Code § 201.6, Comment 2, p. 66 (Tent. Draft No. 9, 1959).

See McGautha v. California, supra, 402 U.S., at 198-199, 91 S.Ct., at 1462-1463.

See Bedau 27; Mackey, Supra, n. 18; McGautha v. California, supra, at 199, 91S.Ct., at 1463.

See Tenn.Laws 1837-1838, c. 29; Ala.Laws 1841; La.Laws 1846, Act No. 139.See also W. Bowers, Executions in America 7 (1974).

Prior to the Tennessee reform in 1838, Maryland had changed from amandatory to an optional death sentence for the crimes of treason, rape, andarson. Md.Laws 1809, c. 138. For a time during the early colonial periodMassachusetts, as part of its "Capitall Lawes" of 1636, apparently had anonmandatory provision for the crime of rape. See Bedau 28.

See Bowers, Supra, at 7-9 (Table 1-2 sets forth the date each State adopteddiscretionary jury sentencing); Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae inMcGautha v. California, O.T. 1970, No. 70-203, App. B (listing statutes in eachState initially introducing discretionary jury sentencing in capital cases), App.C (listing state statutes in force in 1970 providing for discretionary jurysentencing in capital murder cases).

Prior to this Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct.








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2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346, there remained a handful of obscure statutes scatteredamong the penal codes in various States that required an automatic deathsentence upon conviction of a specified offense. These statutes applied to suchesoteric crimes as trainwrecking resulting in death, perjury in a capital caseresulting in the execution of an innocent person, and treason against a stategovernment. See Bedau 46-47 (1964 compilation). The most prevalent of thesestatutes dealt with the crime of treason against state governments. Ibid. Itappears that no one has ever been prosecuted under these or other state treasonlaws. See Hartung, Supra, n. 16, at 10. See also T. Sellin, The Death Penalty, AReport for the Model Penal Code Project of the American Law Institute 1(1959) (discussing the Michigan statute, subsequently repealed in 1963, and theNorth Dakota statute). Several States retained mandatory death sentences forperjury in capital cases resulting in the execution of an innocent person. Datacovering the years from 1930 to 1961 indicate, however, that no Stateemployed its capital perjury statute during that period. See Bedau 46.

The only category of mandatory death sentence statutes that appears to havehad any relevance to the actual administration of the death penalty in the yearspreceding Furman concerned the crimes of murder or assault with a deadlyweapon by a life-term prisoner. Statutes of this type apparently existed in fiveStates in 1964. See Id., at 46-47. In 1970, only five of the more than 550prisoners under death sentence across the country had been sentenced under amandatory death penalty statute. Those prisoners had all been convicted underthe California statute applicable to assaults by life-term prisoners. See Brief ForNAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al., as Amici Curiae inMcGautha v. California, O.T. 1970, No. 70-203, p. 15 n. 19. We have nooccasion in this case to examine the constitutionality of mandatory deathsentence statutes applicable to prisoners serving life sentences.

See Mackey, Supra n. 18.

See H.R.Rep. No. 108, 54th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1896) (noting that themodification of the federal capital statutes to make the death penaltydiscretionary was in harmony with "a growing public sentiment," quotingH.R.Rep. No. 545, 53d Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (1894)); S.Rep. No. 846, 53d Cong.,3d Sess. (1895).

See Report of the Special Commission for the Improvement of theAdministration of Justice, North Carolina, Popular Government 13 (Jan.1949).

See unpublished Hearings on S. 138 before the Subcommittee on the Judiciaryof the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia 19-20 (May 17, 1961)(testimony of Sen. Keating). Data compiled by a former United States Attorney





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for the District of Columbia indicated that juries convicted defendants of first-degree murder in only 12 of the 60 jury trials for first-degree murder held in theDistrict of Columbia between July 1, 1953, and February 1960. Ibid. Theconviction rate was "substantially below the general average in prosecutingother crimes." Id., at 20. The lower conviction rate was attributed to thereluctance of jurors to impose the harsh consequences of a first-degree murderconviction in cases where the record might justify a lesser punishment. Ibid.See McCafferty, Major Trends in the Use of Capital Punishment, 1Am.Crim.L.Q. No. 2, pp. 9, 14-15 (1963) (discussing a similar study of first-degree murder cases in the District of Columbia during the period July 1, 1947,through June 30, 1958).

A study of the death penalty submitted to the American Law Institute noted thatjuries in Massachusetts and Connecticut had "for many years" resorted tosecond-degree murder convictions to avoid the consequences of those States'mandatory death penalty statutes for first-degree murder, prior to theirreplacement with discretionary sentencing in 1951. See Sellin, Supra, n. 25, at13.

A 1973 Pennsylvania legislative report surveying the available literatureanalyzing mandatory death sentence statutes concluded:

"Although the data collection techniques in some instances are weak, theuniformity of the conclusions in substantiating what these authors termed 'jurynullification' (i. e. refusal to convict because of the required penalty) isimpressive. Authors on both sides of the capital punishment debate reachedessentially the same conclusions. Authors writing about the mandatory deathpenalty who wrote in 1892 reached the same conclusions as persons writing inthe 1950's and 1960's." McCloskey, A Review of the Literature ContrastingMandatory and Discretionary Systems of Sentencing Capital Cases, in Reportof the Governor's Study Commission on Capital Punishment 100, 101 (Pa.,1973).

Not only have mandatory death sentence laws for murder been abandoned bylegislature after legislature since Tennessee replaced its mandatory statute 138years ago, but, with a single exception, no State prior to this Court's Furmandecision in 1972 ever returned to a mandatory scheme after adoptingdiscretionary sentencing. See Bedau 30; W. Bowers, Supra, n. 29, at 9.Vermont, which first provided for jury discretion in 1911, was apparentlyprompted to return to mandatory sentencing by a "veritable crime wave oftwenty murders" in 1912. See Bedau 30. Vermont reinstituted discretionaryjury sentencing in 1957.


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Data compiled on discretionary jury sentencing of persons convicted of capitalmurder reveal that the penalty of death is generally imposed in less than 20%Of the cases. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at 386-387, n. 11, 92 S.Ct., at2802-2803 (Burger, C. J., dissenting); Id., at 435-436, n. 19, 92 S.Ct., at 2827(Powell, J., dissenting); Brief for Petitioner in Aikens v. California, O.T. 1971,No. 68-5027, App. F (collecting data from a number of jurisdictions indicatingthat the percentage of death sentences in many States was well below 20%).Statistics compiled by the Department of Justice show that only 66 convictedmurderers were sentenced to death in 1972. See Law Enforcement AssistanceAdministration, Capital Punishment, 1971-1972, Table 7a (National PrisonerStatistics Bulletin Dec. 1974). (The figure does not include persons retained inlocal facilities during the pendency of their appeals.)

Later, in Andres v. United States, Justice Frankfurter observed that the 19thcentury movement leading to the passage of legislation providing fordiscretionary sentencing in capital cases "was impelled both by ethical andhumanitarian arguments against capital punishment, as well as by the practicalconsideration that jurors were reluctant to bring in verdicts which inevitablycalled for its infliction." 333 U.S., at 753, 68 S.Ct., at 886 (concurring opinion).The Court in Andres noted that the decision of Congress at the end of the 19thcentury to replace mandatory death sentences with discretionary jury sentencingfor federal capital crimes was prompted by "(d)issatisfaction over the harshnessand antiquity of the federal criminal laws." Id., at 747-748, n. 11, 68 S.Ct., at884.

See n. 30, Supra.

A study of public opinion polls on the death penalty concluded that "despite theincreasing approval for the death penalty reflected in opinion polls during thelast decade, there is evidence that many people supporting the general idea ofcapital punishment want its administration to depend on the circ*mstances ofthe case, the character of the defendant, or both." Vidmar & Ellsworth, PublicOpinion and the Death Penalty, 26 Stan.L.Rev. 1245, 1267 (1974). One polldiscussed by the authors revealed that a "substantial majority" of personsopposed mandatory capital punishment. Id., at 1253. Moreover, the publicthrough the jury system has in recent years applied the death penalty inanything but a mandatory fashion. See n. 31, Supra.

The fact that, as Mr. Justice REHNQUIST's dissent properly notes, some States"preferred mandatory capital punishment to no capital punishment at all," Post,at 313, is entitled to some weight. But such an artificial choice merelyestablishes a desire for some form of capital punishment; it is hardly "utterlyinconsistent with the notion that (those States) regarded mandatory capital






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sentencing as beyond 'evolving standards of decency.' " Ibid. It says no moreabout contemporary values than would the decision of a State, thinking itselffaced with a choice between a barbarous punishment and no punishment at all,to choose the former.

Dissenting opinions in this case and in Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 96S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974, argue that this conclusion is "simply mistaken"because the American rejection of mandatory death sentence statutes mightpossibly be ascribable to "some maverick juries or jurors." Post, at 309, 313(REHNQUIST, J., dissenting). See Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S., at 361, 96S.Ct., at 361 (White, J., dissenting). Since acquittals no less than convictionsrequired unanimity and citizens with moral reservations concerning the deathpenalty were regularly excluded from capital juries, it seems hardlyconceivable that the persistent refusal of American juries to convict palpablyguilty defendants of capital offenses under mandatory death sentence statutesmerely "represented the intransigence of only a small minority" of jurors. Post,at 312 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting). Moreover, the dissenting opinions simplyignore the experience under discretionary death sentence statutes indicating thatjuries reflecting contemporary community values, Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391U.S., at 519, and n. 15, 88 S.Ct., at 1775, found the death penalty appropriatefor only a small minority of convicted first-degree murderers. See n. 31, Supra.We think it evident that the uniform assessment of the historical record byMembers of this Court beginning in 1899 in Winston v. United States, 172 U.S.303, 19 S.Ct. 212, 43 L.Ed.2d 456 (1899), and continuing through thedissenting opinions of The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Blackmun four yearsago in Furman, see Supra, at 296-298, and n. 32, provides a far more cogentand persuasive explanation of the American rejection of mandatory deathsentences than do the speculations in today's dissenting opinions.

See n. 31, Supra.

See Gregg v. Georgia, ante, 428 U.S., at 204-206, 96 S.Ct., at 2939-2940.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST's dissenting opinion proceeds on the faulty premisethat if, as we hold in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49L.Ed.2d 859, the penalty of death is not invariably a cruel and unusualpunishment for the crime of murder, then it must be a proportionate andappropriate punishment for any and every murderer regardless of thecirc*mstances of the crime and the character and record of the offender. SeePost, at p. 322-324.

Our determination that the death sentences in this case were imposed underprocedures that violated constitutional standards makes it unnecessary to reach






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the question whether imposition of the death penalty on petitioner Woodsonwould have been so disproportionate to the nature of his involvement in thecapital offense as independently to violate the Eighth and FourteenthAmendments. See Gregg v. Georgia, ante, at 187, 96 S.Ct. at 2931-2932.

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What was the outcome of the Woodson v North Carolina case? ›

The Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld his conviction, and Woodson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who granted certiorari. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision written by Justice Stewart, ruled that North Carolina's law violated the Eighth Amendment and remanded the case to redetermine Woodson's sentence.

Did the mandatory death penalty law violate the eighth and fourteenth Amendments? ›

The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but the Eighth Amendment does shape certain procedural aspects regarding when a jury may use the death penalty and how it must be carried out.

Why is the death penalty unconstitutional? ›

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Which 1972 Supreme Court decision ruled that the death penalty at that time violated the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment? ›

Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) The death penalty is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when it is imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner that leads to discriminatory results.

What is a crime punishable by death? ›

The death penalty can only be imposed on defendants convicted of capital offenses – such as murder, treason, genocide, or the killing or kidnapping of a Congressman, the President, or a Supreme Court justice. Unlike other punishments, a jury must decide whether to impose the death penalty.

What is the purpose of the Eighth Amendment? ›

Most often mentioned in the context of the death penalty, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, but also mentions “excessive fines” and bail.

How many innocents were killed by the death penalty? ›

The Death Penalty Information Center (U.S.) has published a partial listing of wrongful executions that, as of the end of 2020, identified 20 death-row prisoners who were "executed but possibly innocent". Judicial murder is a type of wrongful execution.

Is the death penalty still legal? ›

Currently, 27 states, the federal government, and the U.S. Military still have the death penalty. There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Since 1973, at least 189 people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated. 100 of the death row exonerees are Black.

Why was the death penalty reinstated in 1976? ›

In 1976, with 66 percent of Americans still supporting capital punishment, the Supreme Court acknowledged progress made in jury guidelines and reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.” In 1977, Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who had murdered an elderly couple because they would not lend him ...

Which case banned the use of the death penalty in 1972? ›

Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238: Court ruled that the death penalty, as applied, was an arbitrary punishment and thus unconstitutional under the 8th and 14th Amendments.

Why was the death penalty temporarily declared unconstitutional from 1972 1976? ›

In 1976, the California Supreme Court, basing its decision on a United States Supreme Court ruling earlier that year, held that the California death penalty statute was unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution because it did not allow mitigating circ*mstances to be admitted as evidence.

What is the death penalty? ›

The sentence ordering that an offender be punished in such a manner is known as a death sentence, and the act of carrying out the sentence is known as an execution. A prisoner who has been sentenced to death and awaits execution is condemned and is commonly referred to as being "on death row".

What was the outcome of the Brown v United States case? ›

Justice Potter Stewart, writing for a 5-4 majority, affirmed the conviction. The Supreme Court held that the FMCA clearly provided Brown with immunity from prosecution based on his testimony. Because he could not possibly incriminate himself, he could not invoke the Fifth Amendment.

What was the conclusion of the JDB v North Carolina case? ›

234, 674 S. E. 2d 795 (2009). The North Carolina Supreme Court held, over two dissents, that J. D. B. was not in custody when he confessed, “declin[ing] to extend the test for custody to include consideration of the age … of an individual subjected to questioning by police.” In re J. D.

What was the outcome of the NC v Alford case? ›

The Supreme Court held that there was no constitutional violation where the defendant concluded based on competent counsel that it was in his best interest to plead guilty. The court saw no difference between a defendant who maintains his innocence with a plea bargain and one who admits to the crime.

What was the outcome of the NC Supreme Court's decision in State v Mann? ›

Mann (A-94) A-94. N.C. Supreme Court, 1830, reinforced power of slaveholding regime by overturning conviction of Mann (lived nearby) for shooting Lydia, enslaved.

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