428 U.S. 262 (1976), 75-5394, Jurek v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 75-5394
Citation:428 U.S. 262, 96 S.Ct. 2950, 49 L.Ed.2d 929
Party Name:Jurek v. Texas
Case Date:July 02, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 262

428 U.S. 262 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2950, 49 L.Ed.2d 929




No. 75-5394

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1976

Argued March 30, 1976



Petitioner, who was convicted of murder and whose death sentence was upheld on appeal, challenges the constitutionality of the Texas procedures enacted after this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238. The new Texas Penal Code limits capital homicides to intentional and knowing murders committed in five situations. Texas also adopted a new capital sentencing procedure, which requires the jury to answer the following three questions in a proceeding that takes place after a verdict finding a person guilty of one of the specified murder categories: (1) whether the conduct of the defendant causing the death was committed [96 S.Ct. 2952] deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death would result; (2) whether it is probable that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence constituting a continuing threat to society; and (3) if raised by the evidence, whether the defendant's conduct was an unreasonable response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased. If the jury finds that the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer to each of the three questions is affirmative, the death sentence is imposed; if it finds that the answer to any question is negative, a sentence of life imprisonment results. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in this case indicated that it will interpret the "continuing threat to society" question to mean that the jury could consider various mitigating factors.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 268-277; 277; 278-279; 279.

522 S.W.2d 934, affirmed.


1. The imposition of the death penalty is not per se cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Gregg, ante at 168-187. P. 268.

2. The Texas capital sentencing procedures do not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Texas' action in narrowing capital offenses to five categories in essence requires the jury to find the existence of a statutory aggravating circumstance before

Page 263

the death penalty may be imposed, thus requiring the sentencing authority to focus on the particularized nature of the crime. And, though the Texas statute does not explicitly speak of mitigating circumstances, it has been construed to embrace the jury's consideration of such circumstances. Thus, as in the cases of Gregg v. Georgia, ante p. 153, and Proffitt v. Florida, ante p. 242, the Texas capital sentencing procedure guides and focuses the jury's objective consideration of the particularized circumstances of the individual offense and the individual offender before it can impose a sentence of death. The Texas law has thus eliminated the arbitrariness and caprice of the system invalidated in Furman. Petitioner's contentions to the contrary are without substance. Pp. 268-276.

(a) His assertion that arbitrariness still pervades the entire Texas criminal justice system fundamentally misinterprets Furman. Gregg, ante at 198-199. P. 274.

(b) Petitioner's contention that the second statutory question is unconstitutionally vague because it requires the prediction of human behavior lacks merit. The jury's task in answering that question is one that must commonly be performed throughout the American criminal justice system, and Texas law clearly satisfies the essential requirement that the jury have all possible relevant information about the individual defendant. Pp. 274-276.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE concurred in the judgment. See Furman v. Georgia, supra at 375 (BURGER, C.J., dissenting). P. 277.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded that, under the revised Texas law, the substantive crime of murder is narrowly defined, and when murder occurs in one of the five circumstances detailed in the statute, the death penalty must be imposed if the jury makes the certain additional findings against the defendant. Petitioner's contentions that unconstitutionally arbitrary or discretionary statutory features nevertheless remain are without substance, Roberts v. Louisiana, post at 348-350 (WHITE, J., dissenting); Gregg v. Georgia, ante at 224-225 (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment), as is his assertion that the Eighth Amendment forbids the death penalty under any and all circumstances. Roberts v. Louisiana, post at 350-356 (WHITE, J., dissenting). Pp. 278-279.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN concurred in the judgment. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 405-414 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting), and id. at 375, 414, and 465. P. 279.

Page 264

Judgment of the Court, and opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., announced by STEVENS, J. BURGER, C.J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 277. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 277. BLACKMUN, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 279. BRENNAN, J., ante p. 227, and MARSHALL, J., ante p. 231, filed dissenting opinions.

STEWART, POWELL, STEVENS, JJ., joint opinion

Judgment of the Court, and opinion of MR. JUSTICE STEWART, MR. JUSTICE POWELL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, announced by MR. JUSTICE STEVENS.

The issue in this case is whether the imposition of the sentence of death for the crime of murder under the law of Texas violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.


The petitioner in this case, Jerry Lane Jurek, was charged by indictment with the killing of Wendy Adams

Page 265

by choking and strangling her with his hands, and by drowning her in water by throwing her into a river . . . in the course of committing and attempting to commit kidnapping of and forcible rape upon the said Wendy Adams.1

Page 266

The evidence at his trial consisted of incriminating statements made by the petitioner,2 the testimony of several people who saw the petitioner and the deceased during the day she was killed, and certain technical evidence. This evidence established that the petitioner, 22 years old at [96 S.Ct. 2954] the time, had been drinking beer in the afternoon. He and two young friends later went driving together in his old pickup truck. The petitioner expressed a desire for sexual relations with some young girls they saw, but one of his companions said the girls were too young. The petitioner then dropped his two friends off at a pool hall. He was next seen talking to Wendy, who was 10 years old, at a public swimming pool where her grandmother had left her to swim. Other witnesses testified that they later observed a man resembling the petitioner driving an old pickup truck through town at a high rate of speed, with a young blond girl standing screaming in the bed of the truck. The last witness who saw them heard the girl crying "help me,

Page 267

help me." The witness tried to follow them, but lost them in traffic. According to the petitioner's statement, he took the girl to the river, choked her,3 and threw her unconscious body in the river. Her drowned body was found downriver two days later.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Texas law requires that, if a defendant has been convicted of a capital offense, the trial court must conduct a separate sentencing proceeding before the same jury that tried the issue of guilt. Any relevant evidence may be introduced at this proceeding, and both prosecution and defense may present argument for or against the sentence of death. The jury is then presented with two (sometimes three) questions,4 the answers to which determine whether a death sentence will be imposed.

During the punishment phase of the petitioner's trial, several witnesses for the State testified to the petitioner's bad reputation in the community. The petitioner's father countered with testimony that the petitioner had always been steadily employed since he had left school, and that he contributed to his family's support.

The jury then considered the two statutory questions relevant to this case: (1) whether the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder of the deceased was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death of the deceased or another would result, and (2) whether the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that there was

Page 268

a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. The jury unanimously answered "yes" to both questions, and the judge, therefore, in accordance with the statute, sentenced the petitioner to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed the judgment. 522 S.W.2d 934 (1975).

We granted certiorari, 423 U.S. 1082, to consider whether the imposition of...

To continue reading