402 U.S. 183 (1971), 203, McGautha v. California

Docket Nº:No. 203
Citation:402 U.S. 183, 91 S.Ct. 1454, 28 L.Ed.2d 711
Party Name:McGautha v. California
Case Date:May 03, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 183

402 U.S. 183 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 1454, 28 L.Ed.2d 711

McGautha

v.

California

No. 203

United States Supreme Court

May 3, 1971

Argued November 9, 1970

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

Petitioner in No. 203 was convicted of first-degree murder in California, and was sentenced to death. The penalty was left to the jury's absolute discretion, and punishment was determined in a separate proceeding following the trial on the issue of guilt. Petitioner in No. 204 was convicted of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to death in Ohio, where the jury, which also had absolute penalty discretion, determined guilt and penalty after a single trial and in a single verdict. Certiorari was granted to consider whether petitioners' rights were infringed by permitting the death penalty without standards to govern its imposition, and in No. 204, to consider the constitutionality of a single guilt and punishment proceeding.

Held:

1. In light of history, experience, and the limitations of human knowledge in establishing definitive standards, it is impossible to say that leaving to the untrammeled discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death in capital cases violates any provision of the Constitution. Pp. 196-208.

2. The Constitution does not prohibit the States from considering that the compassionate purposes of jury sentencing in capital cases are better served by having the issues of guilt and punishment resolved in a single trial than by focusing the jury's attention solely on punishment after guilt has been determined. Pp. 208-222.

(a) Petitioner in No. 204 has failed to show that his unitary trial violated the Constitution by forcing "the making of difficult judgments" in his decision whether to remain silent on the issue of guilt at the cost of surrendering his chance to plead his case on the punishment issue. Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, distinguished. Pp. 210-213.

[91 S.Ct. 1456] (b) The policies of the privilege against self-incrimination are not offended when a defendant in a capital case yields to the pressure to testify on the issue of punishment at the risk of damaging his case on guilt. Pp. 213-217.

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(c) Ohio does provide for the common law ritual of allocution, but the State need not provide petitioner an opportunity to speak to the jury free from any adverse consequence on the issue of guilt. Pp. 217-220.

No. 203, 70 Cal.2d 770, 452 P.2d 650; and No. 204, 18 Ohio St.2d 182, 248 N.E.2d 614, affirmed.

HARLAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACK, J., filed a separate opinion, post, p. 225. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in No. 204, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 226. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, ill which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 248.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners McGautha and Crampton were convicted of murder in the first degree in the courts of California and Ohio respectively and sentenced to death pursuant to the statutes of those States. In each case, the decision whether the defendant should live or die was left to the absolute discretion of the jury. In McGautha's case, the jury, in accordance with California law, determined punishment in a separate proceeding following the trial on the issue of guilt. In Crampton's case, in accordance with Ohio law, the jury determined guilt and punishment after a single trial and in a single verdict. We granted certiorari in the McGautha case limited to the question whether petitioner's constitutional rights were infringed by permitting the jury to impose the death penalty without any governing standards. 398 U.S. 936 (1970). We granted certiorari in the Crampton case limited to that same question and to the further question whether the jury's imposition of the death sentence in the same proceeding and verdict as determined the issue of guilt was constitutionally permissible. Ibid.1 For the reasons

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that follow, we find no constitutional infirmity in the conviction of either petitioner, and we affirm in both cases.

I

It will put the constitutional issues in clearer focus to begin by setting out the course which each trial took.

A. McGautha's Guilt Trial

McGautha and his codefendant Wilkinson were charged with committing two armed robberies and a murder on February 14, 1967.2 In accordance with California procedure in capital cases, the [91 S.Ct. 1457] trial was in two stages, a guilt stage and a punishment stage.3 At the guilt trial, the

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evidence tended to show that the defendants, armed with pistols, entered the market of Mrs. Pon Lock early in the afternoon of the murder. While Wilkinson kept a customer under guard, McGautha trained his gun on Mrs. Lock and took almost $300. Roughly three hours later, McGautha and Wilkinson held up another store, this one owned by Mrs. Benjamin Smetana and operated by her with her husband's assistance. While one defendant forcibly restrained a customer, the other struck Mrs. Smetana on the head. A shot was fired, fatally wounding Mr. Smetana. Wilkinson's former girlfriend testified that, shortly after the robbery, McGautha told her he had shot a man and showed her an empty cartridge in the cylinder of his gun. Other evidence at the guilt stage was inconclusive on the issue as to who fired the fatal shot. The jury found both defendants guilty of two counts of armed robbery and one count of first-degree murder as charged.

B. McGautha's Penalty Trial

At the penalty trial, which took place on the following day but before the same jury, the State waived its opening, presented evidence of McGautha's prior felony convictions and sentences, see n. 2, supra, and then rested. Wilkinson testified in his own behalf, relating his unhappy childhood in Mississippi as the son of a white

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father and a Negro mother, his honorable discharge from the Army on the score of his low intelligence, his regular attendance at church, and his good record for holding Jobs and supporting his mother and siblings up to the time he was shot in the back in an unprovoked assault by a street gang. Thereafter, he testified, he had difficulty obtaining or holding employment. About a year later, he fell in with McGautha and his companions, and when they found themselves short of funds, one of the group suggested that they "knock over somebody." This was the first time, Wilkinson said, that he had ever had any thoughts of committing a robbery. He admitted participating in the two robberies, but said he had not known that the stores were to be held [91 S.Ct. 1458] up until McGautha drew his gun. He testified that it had been McGautha who struck Mrs. Smetana and shot Mr. Smetana.

Wilkinson called several witnesses in his behalf. An undercover narcotics agent testified that he had seen the murder weapon in McGautha's possession and had seen McGautha demonstrating his quick draw. A minister with whom Wilkinson had boarded testified to Wilkinson's church attendance and good reputation. He also stated that, before trial Wilkinson had expressed his horror at what had happened and requested the minister's prayers on his behalf. A former fellow employee testified that Wilkinson had a good reputation and was honest and peaceable.

McGautha also testified in his own behalf at the penalty hearing. He admitted that the murder weapon was his, but testified that he and Wilkinson had traded guns, and that it was Wilkinson who had struck Mrs. Smetana and killed her husband. McGautha testified that he came from a broken home, and that he had been wounded during World War II. He related his employment record, medical condition, and remorse. He admitted his criminal record, see n. 2, supra, but testified that he had

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been a mere accomplice in two of those robberies, and that his prior conviction for murder had resulted from a slaying in self-defense. McGautha also admitted to a 1964 guilty plea to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. He called no witnesses in his behalf.

The jury was instructed in the following language:

in this part of the trial, the law does not forbid you from being influenced by pity for the defendants, and you may be governed by mere sentiment and sympathy for the defendants in arriving at a proper penalty in this case; however, the law does forbid you from being governed by mere conjecture, prejudice, public opinion or public feeling.

The defendants in this case have been found guilty of the offense of murder in the first degree, and it is now your duty to determine which of the penalties provided by law should be imposed on each defendant for that offense. Now, in arriving at this determination, you should consider all of the evidence received here in court presented by the People and defendants throughout the trial before this jury. You may also consider all of the evidence of the circumstances surrounding the crime, of each defendant's background and history, and of the facts in aggravation or mitigation of the penalty which have been received here in court. However, it is not essential to your decision that you find mitigating circumstances, on the one hand, or evidence in aggravation of the offense, on the other hand.

* * * *

. . . Notwithstanding facts, if any, proved in mitigation or aggravation, in determining which punishment shall be inflicted, you are entirely free to act according to your own judgment, conscience,

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and absolute discretion. That verdict must express the individual opinion of each juror.

Now, beyond prescribing the two alternative penalties, the law itself provides no...

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