458 U.S. 782 (1982), 81-5321, Enmund v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 81-5321
Citation:458 U.S. 782, 102 S.Ct. 3368, 73 L.Ed.2d 1140
Party Name:Enmund v. Florida
Case Date:July 02, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

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458 U.S. 782 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 3368, 73 L.Ed.2d 1140




No. 81-5321

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1982

Argued March 23, 1982



Petitioner and a codefendant, at a jury trial in a Florida court, were convicted of [102 S.Ct. 3369] first-degree murder and robbery of two elderly persons at their farmhouse, and were sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed. The court held that, although the record supported no more than the inference that petitioner was the person in a car parked by the side of the road near the farmhouse at the time of the killings waiting to help the robbers and killers (the codefendant and another) escape, this was enough under Florida law to make petitioner a constructive aider and abettor and hence a principal in first-degree murder upon whom the death penalty could be imposed. It was thus irrelevant to petitioner's challenge to the death sentence that he did not himself kill and was not present at the killings, or whether he intended that the victims be killed or anticipated that lethal force might be used to effectuate the robbery or escape.

Held: The imposition of the death penalty upon petitioner is inconsistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 788-801.

(a) The current judgments of legislatures, juries, and prosecutors weigh heavily on the side of rejecting capital punishment for the crime at issue. Only a small minority of States -- eight -- allow the death penalty to be imposed solely because the defendant somehow participated in the robbery in the course of which a murder was committed, but did not take or attempt or intend to take life, or intend that lethal force be employed. And the evidence is overwhelming that American juries have repudiated imposition of the death penalty for crimes such as petitioner's, the statistics demonstrating that juries -- and perhaps prosecutors -- consider death a disproportionate penalty for those who fall within petitioner's category. Pp. 788-796.

(b) While robbery is a serious crime deserving serious punishment, it is not a crime "so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death." Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 184. The death penalty, which is "unique in its severity and irrevocability," id. at 187, is an excessive penalty for the robber, who, as such, does not take human life. Here, the focus must be on petitioner's culpability, not on those who committed the robbery and killings. He did not kill or intend to kill, and thus his culpability is different from that of the robbers who killed, and it is impermissible for the State

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to treat them alike and attribute to petitioner the culpability of those who killed the victims. Pp. 797-798.

(c) Neither deterrence of capital crimes nor retribution is a sufficient justification for executing petitioner. It is unlikely that the threat of the death penalty for murder will measurably deter one, such as petitioner, who does not kill or intend to kill. As to retribution, this depends on the degree of petitioner's culpability, which must be limited to his participation in the robbery. Putting him to death to avenge two killings that he did not commit or intend to commit or cause would not measurably contribute to the retribution end of ensuring that the criminal gets his just deserts. Pp. 798-801.

399 So.2d 1362, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 801. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 801.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.


The facts of this case, taken principally from the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, are as follows. On April 1,

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1975, at approximately 7:45 a.m., Thomas and Eunice Kersey, aged 86 and 74, were robbed and fatally shot at their farmhouse in central Florida. The evidence showed that Sampson and Jeanette Armstrong had gone to the back door of the Kersey house and [102 S.Ct. 3370] asked for water for an overheated car. When Mr. Kersey came out of the house, Sampson Armstrong grabbed him, pointed a gun at him, and told Jeanette Armstrong to take his money. Mr. Kersey cried for help, and his wife came out of the house with a gun and shot Jeanette Armstrong, wounding her. Sampson Armstrong, and perhaps Jeanette Armstrong, then shot and killed both of the Kerseys, dragged them into the kitchen, and took their money and fled.

Two witnesses testified that they drove past the Kersey house between 7:30 and 7:40 a.m. and saw a large cream- or yellow-colored car parked beside the road about 200 yards from the house, and that a man was sitting in the car. Another witness testified that, at approximately 6:45 a.m., he saw Ida Jean Shaw, petitioner's common law wife and Jeanette Armstrong's mother, driving a yellow Buick with a vinyl top which belonged to her and petitioner Earl Enmund. Enmund was a passenger in the car along, with an unidentified woman. At about 8 a.m., the same witness saw the car return at a high rate of speed. Enmund was driving, Ida Jean Shaw was in the front seat, and one of the other two people in the car was lying down across the back seat.

Enmund, Sampson Armstrong, and Jeanette Armstrong were indicted for the first-degree murder and robbery of the Kerseys. Enmund and Sampson Armstrong were tried together.1 The prosecutor maintained in his closing argument that "Sampson Armstrong killed the old people." Record 1577. The judge instructed the jury that

[t]he killing of a

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human being while engaged in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate the offense of robbery is murder in the first degree even though there is no premeditated design or intent to kill.

App. 6. He went on to instruct them that,

[i]n order to sustain a conviction of first degree murder while engaging in the perpetration of or in the attempted perpetration of the crime of robbery, the evidence must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was actually present and was actively aiding and abetting the robbery or attempted robbery, and that the unlawful killing occurred in the perpetration of or in the attempted perpetration of the robbery.

Id. at 9.

The jury found both Enmund and Sampson Armstrong guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery. A separate sentencing hearing was held, and the jury recommended the death penalty for both defendants under the Florida procedure whereby the jury advises the trial judge whether to impose the death penalty. See Fla.Stat. § 921.141(2) (1981). The trial judge then sentenced Enmund to death on the two counts of first-degree murder. Enmund appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court remanded for written findings as required by Fla.Stat. § 921.141(3) (1981). The trial judge found four statutory aggravating circumstances: the capital felony was committed while Enmund was engaged in or was an accomplice in the commission of an armed robbery, Fla.Stat. § 921.141(5)(d) (1981); the capital felony was committed for pecuniary gain, § 921.141(5)(f); it was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, § 921.141(5)(h); and Enmund was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence, § 921.141(5)(b). 399 So.2d 1362, 1371-1372 (Fla.1981). The court found that "none of the statutory mitigating circumstances applied" to Enmund, and that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. Id. at 1372. Enmund was therefore sentenced to death on each of the murder counts.

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The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Enmund's conviction and sentences. It found that

[t]here was no direct evidence at trial that Earl Enmund was present at the back door of the Kersey home when the plan to rob the elderly couple led to their being murdered.

Id. at 1370. However, it rejected petitioner's argument that, at most, he could be found guilty of second-degree murder under Florida's felony murder rule. The court explained that the interaction of the "`felony murder rule and the law of principals combine to make a felon generally responsible for the lethal acts of his co-felon.'" Id. at 1369, quoting Adams v. State, 341 So.2d 765, 768-769 (Fla.1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 878 (1977). Although petitioner could be convicted of second-degree murder only if he were an accessory before the fact, rather than a principal, the Florida Supreme Court reasoned:

[T]he only evidence of the degree of his participation is the jury's likely inference that he was the person in the car by the side of the road near the scene of the crimes. The jury could have concluded that he was there, a few hundred feet away, waiting to help the robbers escape with the Kerseys' money. The evidence, therefore, was sufficient to find that the appellant was a principal of the second degree, constructively present aiding and abetting the commission of the crime of robbery. This conclusion supports the verdicts of murder in the first degree on the basis of the felony murder portion of section 782.04(1)(a).

399 So.2d at 1370.2

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The State Supreme Court rejected two of the four statutory aggravating circumstances found by the trial court. It held that the findings that the murders were committed in the course of a robbery and that they were committed for pecuniary gain referred to the same aspect of petitioner's crime, and must be treated as only one aggravating circumstance. Id. at 1373. In addition, the court held that "[t]he recited circumstance, that the murders were especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel, cannot be approved." Ibid., citing Armstrong v. State, 399 So.2d 953 (Fla.1981).3 However, because there were two...

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