486 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2007), 04-6001, United States v. Sampson

Docket Nº:04-6001.
Citation:486 F.3d 13
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Gary Lee SAMPSON, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:May 07, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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486 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2007)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Gary Lee SAMPSON, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 04-6001.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

May 7, 2007

Heard Oct. 4, 2006.

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David A. Ruhnke and Joshua L. Dratel, with whom Ruhnke & Barrett, Joshua L. Dratel, P.C., Meredith S. Heller, Kristian K. Larsen, and Erik B. Levin were on brief, for appellant.

Steven L. Lane, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, with whom Michael J. Sullivan, United States Attorney, George W. Vien and John A. Wortmann, Jr., Assistant United States Attorneys, were on brief, for appellee.

Before SELYA, LYNCH and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This is a landmark case; for the first time in its history, this court must review a sentence of death imposed by a federal judge. To that extent, we are writing on a pristine page. We are guided in this pathbreaking endeavor, however, by a variety of reliable sources, including Supreme Court precedent, decisions of other courts of appeals in capital cases, and legal principles of general application.

With this brief preface, we turn to the particulars of the case at hand. Defendant-appellant Gary Lee Sampson entered a guilty plea to two counts of carjacking resulting in death. See 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3). On January 29, 2004, the district court sentenced Sampson to death on the recommendation of a jury of his peers.

Sampson's appeal from his sentence raises a host of claims. The first six include five claims that contest the constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3598 (FDPA), pursuant to which the district court pronounced sentence, and one that contests the constitutionality of the death penalty in general. There follows a litany of claims concerning alleged errors specific to Sampson's penalty-phase trial. The district court's rulings on many of these issues are embodied in a

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series of published opinions. See United States v. Sampson, 335 F.Supp.2d 166 (D.Mass.2004) (Sampson IV); United States v. Sampson, 332 F.Supp.2d 325 (D.Mass.2004) (Sampson III); United States v. Sampson, 275 F.Supp.2d 49 (D.Mass.2003) (Sampson II); United States v. Sampson, 245 F.Supp.2d 327 (D.Mass.2003) (Sampson I).

We begin this opinion by sketching the background of the case. We then discuss Sampson's arguments about the constitutionality of the FDPA and the death penalty itself. Finally, we address the myriad claims of trial-related error. In the end, we reject Sampson's asseverational array in its entirety and affirm his capital sentence.


We briefly recount the facts underlying Sampson's claims. Many of these facts are rehearsed in Sampson IV, 335 F.Supp.2d at 174-75, and McCloskey v. Mueller, 446 F.3d 262, 264-65 (1st Cir.2006), and we assume the reader's familiarity with those opinions.

Sampson committed a series of bank robberies in North Carolina in May, June, and July of 2001. He then fled to Massachusetts. On July 23, he called the FBI's Boston office and offered to self-surrender. The call was disconnected and, although he waited for the police to arrive, Sampson was not apprehended.

The next day, Phillip McCloskey, a 69-year-old retiree, was driving his car in Weymouth, Massachusetts. He picked up Sampson, who was hitchhiking. When McCloskey later tried to drop Sampson off, Sampson pulled out a knife and told McCloskey to keep driving. Once they reached Marshfield, Sampson forced McCloskey out of the car and attempted to restrain him with a belt. When McCloskey resisted, Sampson stabbed him multiple times and then slit his throat, nearly decapitating him. Sampson proceeded to steal McCloskey's money and tried to steal his car, which would not start.

Three days later, Jonathan Rizzo, a 19-year-old college student, picked up Sampson (who was posing as a stranded traveler) along a road in Plymouth. Sampson forced Rizzo at knifepoint to drive to Abington, where Sampson maintained a makeshift campsite. Sampson tied Rizzo to a tree, gagged him with a sock and a bandana, stabbed him repeatedly in the neck and chest, and slit his throat. After Rizzo was dead, Sampson stole his car and drove to New Hampshire.

On July 29, Sampson broke into a home on Lake Winnipesaukee. The next day, the caretaker (Robert Whitney) arrived. Sampson tied him to a chair, gagged him with a washcloth, and strangled him to death with a rope. Sampson then appropriated Whitney's car and drove to Vermont.

On July 31, William Gregory picked up Sampson, who was hitchhiking, near West Bridgewater, Vermont. Sampson attempted to force Gregory at knifepoint onto a dirt road so that he could tie him to a tree and steal his car. Gregory, however, pulled into a rest area and escaped on foot. Sampson made off with Gregory's car. Later that day, he broke into a home near the Killington ski area. He then called 911 and offered to turn himself in for carjacking Gregory and for the earlier bank robberies. Vermont state troopers arrested Sampson at that locus. Following his detention, Sampson waived his Miranda rights, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444-45, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and made several detailed confessions to the authorities.

On October 24, 2001, a federal grand jury charged Sampson with two counts of

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carjacking resulting in death (namely, the murders of McCloskey and Rizzo). Sampson offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment without parole but that overture was rejected.

In short order, the government filed a superseding indictment to comply with Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 609, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), and then served a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, see 18 U.S.C.§ 3593(a). After filing numerous pretrial motions that unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the FDPA, Sampson eventually entered a guilty plea to both counts of the superseding indictment.

The district court empaneled a death-qualified jury to determine what punishment should be imposed. See id. § 3593(b)(2)(A); see also United States v. Green, 407 F.3d 434, 436-37 (1st Cir.2005) (discussing "death-qualified" jury requirement). On December 23, 2003, after a six-week penalty-phase trial conducted in accordance with the FDPA, the jury unanimously recommended that Sampson be sentenced to death on both counts of the superseding indictment. The district court sentenced Sampson to death on both counts. United States v. Sampson, 300 F.Supp.2d 275, 276 (D.Mass.2004). The district court denied Sampson's ensuing motions for judgment as a matter of law, a new penalty-phase trial, and other relief. Sampson III, 332 F.Supp.2d at 341. This appeal followed.


Sampson raises six types of constitutional claims. Most of them are attacks on the FDPA. First, Sampson argues that the FDPA, which authorizes prosecutors to decide whether to seek the death penalty, is unconstitutional because it does not require the aggravating factors needed for a sentence of death to be presented to a grand jury as mandated by Ring. Relatedly, he argues that the presentation of aggravating factors to the grand jury in this case was tantamount to executive and judicial redrafting of the statute in derogation of the principles of separation of powers and legislative authority. Second, Sampson argues that because the federal death penalty is so rarely sought or imposed, the FDPA operates in a fundamentally arbitrary and capricious manner (and, thus, is invalid as violative of the Eighth Amendment). Third, he argues that the absence of a principled basis for distinguishing between cases in which the federal death penalty is imposed and those in which it is not renders the FDPA unconstitutional. Fourth, he argues that the federal death penalty is sought on the invidious basis of race and the irrational basis of geography (and, thus, is unconstitutional). Fifth, he argues that continued enforcement of the federal death penalty will lead to execution of a significant number of innocent persons and that, therefore, the FDPA and the death penalty itself are unconstitutional. Finally, he argues that the death penalty is per se unconstitutional. Sampson supports his arguments with Brandeis-brief type information from studies about the operation in fact of the FDPA.

The district court rejected each of these claims after careful analysis. See Sampson II, 275 F.Supp.2d at 62-66, 71-94; Sampson I, 245 F.Supp.2d at 330-38. Concluding, as we do, that nearly all of the claims are foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent, we echo this holding.

Before addressing the issues, we confirm some basic principles applicable to judicial review. A district court's rulings on questions of law, including constitutional questions, engender de novo review. See United States v. Bender, 221 F.3d 265, 268 (1st Cir.2000); see also United States v. Marenghi, 109 F.3d 28, 31 (1st Cir.1997).

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Statutes duly enacted by Congress are presumed to be constitutional. INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 944, 103 S.Ct. 2764, 77 L.Ed.2d 317 (1983). Thus, the burden of proving that the FDPA is unconstitutional is on the challenger (here, Sampson). Lujan v. G & G Fire Sprinklers, Inc., 532 U.S. 189, 198, 121 S.Ct. 1446, 149 L.Ed.2d 391 (2001). Last--but surely not least--when the Supreme Court has directly decided an issue, we must "follow the case [that] directly controls, leaving to [the Supreme] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions." Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am. Express, Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484, 109 S.Ct. 1917, 104 L.Ed.2d 526 (1989). With these principles in mind, we turn to Sampson's constitutional claims.

A. Ring-Related Claims.

We begin with Sampson's multi-faceted claim that...

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