494 U.S. 433 (1990), 88-5909, McKoy v. North Carolina

Docket Nº:No. 88-5909
Citation:494 U.S. 433, 110 S.Ct. 1227, 108 L.Ed.2d 369, 58 U.S.L.W. 4311
Party Name:McKoy v. North Carolina
Case Date:March 05, 1990
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 433

494 U.S. 433 (1990)

110 S.Ct. 1227, 108 L.Ed.2d 369, 58 U.S.L.W. 4311

McKoy

v.

North Carolina

No. 88-5909

United States Supreme Court

March 5, 1990

Argued Oct. 10, 1989

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted in a North Carolina court of first-degree murder. In the trial's sentencing phase, the jury made a binding recommendation of death after finding unanimously, as required by instructions given both orally and in a written verdict form: (1) the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances; (2) the existence of two of eight possible mitigating circumstances; (3) that the mitigating circumstances found were insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances found; and (4) that the aggravating circumstances found were sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty when considered with the mitigating circumstances found. The State Supreme Court rejected petitioner's challenge to his sentence, distinguishing Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367. In Mills, this Court reversed a death sentence imposed under Maryland's capital punishment scheme because that scheme precluded a jury from considering any mitigating evidence unless all 12 jurors agreed on the existence of a particular circumstance supported by that evidence. In contrast to the Maryland procedure, which required the jury to impose a death penalty if it found at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances or unanimously agreed that the mitigating circumstances did not outweigh the aggravating ones, the court emphasized that Issue Four in North Carolina's scheme allowed the jury to recommend life imprisonment if it felt that the aggravating circumstances did not call for the death penalty even if it had found several aggravating circumstances and no mitigating ones. The court also reasoned that, whereas in Maryland's scheme evidence remained "legally relevant" as long as one or more jurors found the presence of a mitigating circumstance supported by that evidence, in North Carolina's system, any evidence introduced to support a mitigating factor that the jury did not unanimously find is legally "irrelevant" and can be excluded from jurors' consideration.

Held: North Carolina's unanimity requirement impermissibly limits jurors' consideration of mitigating evidence, and hence is [110 S.Ct. 1229] contrary to this Court's decision in Mills, supra. The State's Issue Four does not ameliorate the constitutional infirmity created by the requirement. Although the jury can opt for life imprisonment without finding any mitigating circumstances, it is required to make its decision based only on the circumstances it unanimously finds in Issue Two. Thus, one holdout

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juror can prevent the others from giving effect to evidence they feel calls for a lesser sentence; moreover, even if all the jurors agree that there are some mitigating circumstances, they can not give effect to evidence supporting any of those circumstances unless they agree unanimously on the same circumstance. In addition, the state court's holding distorts the concept of relevance. The mitigating circumstances not unanimously found to be present by the jury did not become "irrelevant" to mitigation merely because one or more jurors either did not believe that the circumstance had been proved as a factual matter or did not think that the circumstance, though proved, mitigated the offense. Furthermore, the mere declaration that evidence is "legally irrelevant" cannot bar the consideration of that evidence if the sentencer could reasonably find that it warrants a sentence less than death. Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U.S. 1; Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104. The State misplaces its reliance on Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, to support its view that the unanimity requirement is a standard of proof intended to ensure the reliability of mitigating evidence, as Patterson did not involve the validity of a capital sentencing procedure under the Eighth Amendment, which requires States to allow consideration of mitigating evidence. It is no answer that the jury is permitted to "consider" mitigating evidence when it decides colt is primarily concerned with policy considerations. . . . Conversely, adjudication is concerned with the determination of past and present rights and liabilities.

Id. at 13-14.

These statements cannot conceivably be reconciled with the Secretary's pion that may not be foreclosed by one or more jurors' failure to find a mitigating circumstance under Issue Two. Moreover, requiring unanimity on mitigating factors is not constitutional merely because the State also requires unanimity on aggravating circumstances. Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302. Pp. 439-444.

323 N.C. 1, 372 S.E.2d 12 (1988), vacated and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., post, p. 444, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 445, filed concurring opinions. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 452. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 457.

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MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we address the constitutionality of the unanimity requirement in North Carolina's capital sentencing scheme. That requirement prevents the jury from considering, in deciding whether to impose the death penalty, any mitigating factor that the jury does not unanimously find. We hold that, under our decision in Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), North Carolina's unanimity requirement violates the Constitution by preventing the sentencer from considering all mitigating evidence. We therefore vacate petitioner's death sentence and remand for resentencing.

I

Petitioner Dock McKoy, Jr., was convicted in Stanley County, North Carolina, of first-degree murder. During the sentencing phase of McKoy's trial, the trial court instructed the jury, both orally and in a written verdict form, to answer four questions in determining its sentence. Issue One asked:

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Do you unanimously find from the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of one or more of the following aggravating circumstances?

App. 6, 23. The jury found two statutory aggravating circumstances: that McKoy "had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person"1 and that the murder was committed against a deputy sheriff who was "engaged in the performance of his official duties."2 The jury therefore answered "Yes" to Issue One and was instructed to proceed to the next Issue.

Issue Two asked: "Do you unanimously find from the evidence the existence of one or more of the following mitigating circumstances?" Id. at 8, 24. The judge submitted to the jury eight possible mitigating circumstances. With respect to each circumstance, the judge orally instructed the jury as follows:

If you do not unanimously find this mitigating circumstance by a preponderance of the evidence, so indicate by having your foreman write, "No," in that space

on the verdict form. Id. at 10-13. The verdict form reiterated the unanimity requirement:

In the space after each mitigating circumstance, write "Yes," if you unanimously find that mitigating circumstance by a preponderance of the evidence. Write, "No," if you do not unanimously find that mitigating circumstance by a preponderance of the evidence.

Id. at 24.

The jury unanimously found the statutory mitigating circumstance that McKoy's capacity "to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired."3 It also unanimously found the nonstatutory mitigating circumstance that McKoy had a "borderline intellectual functioning with a IQ test score of 74." Id. at 25. The jury did not, however, unanimously

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find the statutory mitigating circumstances that McKoy committed the crime while "under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance"4 or that McKoy's age at the time of the crime, 65, was a mitigating factor.5 The jury also failed to find unanimously four nonstatutory mitigating circumstances: that for several decades, McKoy exhibited signs of mental or emotional disturbance or defect that went untreated; that McKoy's mental and emotional disturbance was aggravated by his poor physical health; that McKoy's ability to remember the events of the day of the murder was actually impaired; and that there was any other circumstance arising from the evidence that had mitigating value.6

Because the jury found the existence of mitigating circumstances, it was instructed to answer Issue Three, which asked:

Do you unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that the mitigating circumstance or circumstances found by you is, or are, insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstance or circumstances found by you?

Id. at 13, 26 (emphasis added). The jury answered this issue "Yes," and so proceeded to the final issue. Issue Four asked:

Do you unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating circumstance or circumstances found by you is, or are, sufficiently substantial to call for the imposition of the death penalty when considered with the mitigating circumstance or circumstances found by you?

Id. at 14, 26 (emphasis added). The jury again responded "Yes." Pursuant to the verdict form and the court's instructions, [110 S.Ct. 1231] the jury therefore made a binding recommendation of death.

During the pendency of petitioner's direct appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, this Court decided Mills v.

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Maryland, supra. There, we reversed a...

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