428 U.S. 325 (1976), 75-5844, Roberts v. Louisiana

Docket Nº:No. 75-5844
Citation:428 U.S. 325, 96 S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974
Party Name:Roberts v. Louisiana
Case Date:July 02, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 325

428 U.S. 325 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974

Roberts

v.

Louisiana

No. 75-5844

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1976

Argued March 30-31, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

Petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death under amended Louisiana statutes enacted after this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's contention that the new procedure for imposing the death penalty is unconstitutional. The post-Furman legislation mandates imposition of the death penalty whenever, with respect to five categories of homicide (here, killing during the perpetration of an armed robbery), the jury finds the defendant had a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. If a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder is returned, death is mandated regardless of any mercy recommendation. Every jury is instructed on the crimes of second-degree murder and manslaughter and permitted to consider those verdicts even if no evidence supports the lesser verdicts; and, if a lesser verdict is returned it is treated as an acquittal of all greater charges.

Held: The judgment is reversed insofar as it upheld the death sentence, and the case is remanded. Pp. 331-336; 336; 336-337.

319 So.2d 317, reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE STEWART, MR. JUSTICE POWELL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS concluded that:

1. The imposition of the death penalty is not per se cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Gregg v. Georgia, ante at 168-187. P. 331.

2. Louisiana's mandatory death penalty statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 331-336.

(a) Though Louisiana has adopted a different and somewhat narrower definition of first-degree murder than North Carolina, the difference is not of constitutional significance, and the Louisiana statute imposing a mandatory death sentence is invalid for substantially the same reasons as are detailed in Woodson v. North Carolina, ante at 289-296. Pp. 331-334.

(b) Though respondent State claims that it has adopted satisfactory procedures to comply with Furman's requirement that standardless jury discretion be replaced by procedures that safeguard

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against the arbitrary and capricious imposition of death sentences, that objective has not been realized, since the responsive verdict procedure not only lacks standards to guide the jury in selecting among first-degree murderers, but it plainly invites the jurors to disregard their oaths and choose a verdict for a lesser offense whenever they feel that the death penalty is inappropriate. See Woodson, ante, at 302-303. Pp. 334-336.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concurred in the judgment for the reasons stated in his dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia, ante p. 227. P. 336.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, being of the view that death is a cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, concurred in the judgment. Gregg v. Georgia, ante, p. 231 (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). P. 336.

Judgment of the Court, and opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., announced by STEVENS, J. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 336, and MARSHALL, J., post p. 336, filed statements concurring in the judgment. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting statement, post p. 337. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 337. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 363.

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STEWART, POWELL, STEVENS, JJ., lead opinion

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

The question in this case is whether the imposition of the sentence of death for the crime of first-degree murder under the law of Louisiana violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

I

On August 18, 1973, in the early hours of the morning, Richard G. Lowe was found dead in the office of the Lake Charles, La., gas station where he worked. He had been shot four times in the head. Four men -- the petitioner, Huey Cormier, Everett Walls, and Calvin Arceneaux -- were arrested for complicity in the murder. The petitioner was subsequently indicated by a grand jury on a presentment that he

[d]id unlawfully with the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm, while engaged in the armed robbery of Richard G. Lowe, commit first degree murder by killing one Richard G. Lowe, in violation of Section One (1) of LSA-R.S. 14:30.

At the petitioner's trial, Cormier, Walls, and Arceneaux testified for the prosecution. Their testimony established that, just before midnight on August 17, the petitioner discussed with Walls and Cormier the subject of "ripping off that old man at the station," and that, on the early morning of August 18, Arceneaux and the petitioner went to the gas station on the pretext of seeking employment. After Lowe told them that there were no jobs available, they surreptitiously made their way into

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the office of the station, where Arceneaux removed a pistol from a desk drawer. The petitioner insisted on taking possession of the pistol. When Lowe returned to the office, the petitioner and Arceneaux assaulted him and then shoved him into a small back room. Shortly thereafter, a car drove up. Arceneaux went out and, posing as the station attendant, sold the motorist about three dollars' worth of gasoline. While still out in front, Arceneaux heard four shots from inside the station. He went back inside and found the petitioner gone and Lowe lying bleeding on the floor. Arceneaux grabbed some empty "money bags" and ran.

The jury found the petitioner guilty as charged. As required by state law, the trial judge sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the judgment. 319 So.2d 317 (1975). [96 S.Ct. 3004] We granted certiorari, 423 U.S. 1082 (1976), to consider whether the imposition of the death penalty in this case violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

II

The Louisiana Legislature, in 1973, amended the state statutes relating to murder and the death penalty in apparent response to this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). Before these amendments, Louisiana law defined the crime of "murder" as the killing of a human being by an offender with a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm, or by an offender engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of certain serious felonies, even without an intent to kill.1 The jury was free to return any of four verdicts:

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guilty, guilty without capital punishment, guilty of manslaughter, or not guilty.2

In the 1973 amendments, the legislature changed this discretionary statute to a wholly mandatory one, requiring that the death penalty be imposed whenever the jury finds the defendant guilty of the newly defined crime of first-degree murder. The revised statute, under which the petitioner was charged, convicted, and sentenced, provides in part that first-degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm and is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated kidnaping, aggravated rape, or armed robbery.3 In a

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first-degree murder case, the four responsive verdicts are not guilty, guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter, and not guilty. La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 814(A)(1) (Supp. 1975). The jury must be instructed on all these verdicts, [96 S.Ct. 3005] whether or not raised by the evidence or requested by the defendant.4

Under the former statute, the jury had the unfettered choice in any case where it found the defendant guilty of murder of returning either a verdict of guilty, which required the imposition of the death penalty, or a verdict of guilty without capital punishment, in which case the punishment was imprisonment at hard labor for life.5

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Under the new statute, the jury is required to determine only whether both conditions existed at the time of the killing; if there was a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm, and the offender was engaged in an armed robbery, the offense is first-degree murder and the mandatory punishment is death. If only one of these conditions existed, the offense is second-degree murder and the mandatory punishment is imprisonment at hard labor for life. Any qualification or recommendation which a jury might add to its verdict -- such as a recommendation of mercy where the verdict is guilty of first-degree murder -- is without any effect.6

III

The petitioner argues that the imposition of the death penalty under any circumstances is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. We reject this argument for the reasons stated today in Gregg v. Georgia, ante at 168-187.

IV

Louisiana, like North Carolina, has responded to Furman by replacing discretionary jury sentencing in capital cases with mandatory death sentences. Under the present Louisiana law, all persons found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated rape, aggravated kidnaping, or treason are automatically sentenced to death. See La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § § 14:30, 14:42, 14:44, 14:113 (1974).

There are two major differences between the Louisiana and North Carolina statutes governing first-degree murder cases. First, the crime of first-degree murder in North Carolina includes any willful, deliberate, and

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premeditated homicide and any felony murder, whereas Louisiana limits first-degree murder to five categories of homicide -- killing in...

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