494 U.S. 484 (1990), 88-1264, Saffle v. Parks

Docket Nº:No. 88-1264
Citation:494 U.S. 484, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415, 58 U.S.L.W. 4322
Party Name:Saffle v. Parks
Case Date:March 05, 1990
Court:United States Supreme Court

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494 U.S. 484 (1990)

110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415, 58 U.S.L.W. 4322




No. 88-1264

United States Supreme Court

March 5, 1990

Argued November 1, 1989




Respondent Parks' state court capital murder conviction and death sentence became final in 1983. The Federal District Court denied his habeas corpus petition, which was based on the argument that, inter alia, an instruction delivered in the penalty phase of his trial, telling the jury to "avoid any influence of sympathy," violated the Eighth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the instruction was unconstitutional because it in effect told the jury to disregard the mitigating evidence that Parks had presented.

Held: Parks is not entitled to federal habeas relief. The principle he urges is a "new rule" of federal constitutional law that can neither be announced nor applied in a case on collateral review unless it comes within one of two narrow -- and here inapplicable -- exceptions. Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288; Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302. Pp. 487-495.

(a) Parks' contention that the Eighth Amendment requires that the jury be allowed to base the sentencing decision upon the sympathy they feel for the defendant after hearing his mitigating evidence constitutes a "new rule" as defined in Teague and Penry, since a state court considering his claim at the time his conviction became final would not have concluded that it was compelled by existing precedent to adopt it. Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, which were both decided before 1983, do not dictate the result urged by Parks, since those cases hold only that the State cannot bar relevant mitigating evidence from being presented and considered during a capital trial's penalty phase, and do not speak to how the State may guide the jury in considering and weighing that evidence. The holding in Penry, supra, at 315 -- that the relief sought there did not call for the creation of a new rule -- does not compel a similar result here. Nor does the antisympathy instruction run afoul of Lockett and Eddings on the theory that jurors who react sympathetically to mitigating evidence may interpret the instruction as barring them from considering that evidence altogether. At the very least, nothing in those cases prevents the State from attempting to ensure reliability and nonarbitrariness by requiring that the jury consider and give effect to the defendant's mitigating evidence in the form of a reasoned moral response, rather than an emotional one based on the whims or caprice of jurors. Similarly, California v.

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Brown, 479 U.S. 538, 542 -- which approved an antisympathy instruction that prevented jurors from considering emotional responses not based on the evidence -- is of no assistance to Parks. It is doubtful that a constitutional rule requiring that the jury be allowed to consider and give effect to emotions based on mitigating evidence may be inferred from Brown or is consistent with the Court's precedents. Moreover, since Brown was decided after 1983, Parks can gain its benefit, if any, only by pursuing the untenable argument that Brown's reasoning, if not its result, was dictated by Lockett and Eddings. Pp. 487-494.

(b) The new rule sought by Parks does not come within either of the two exceptions set forth in Teague and Penry. The first exception cannot be invoked, since Parks' proposed rule would neither decriminalize a class of private conduct nor prohibit the imposition of capital punishment on a particular class of persons. The second exception is also inapplicable, since Parks' rule has [110 S.Ct. 1259] none of the primacy and centrality of the type of "watershed rule of criminal procedure" that the exception contemplates. The objectives of fairness and accuracy are more likely to be threatened than promoted by a rule allowing the sentence to turn not on whether the defendant, in the eyes of the community, is morally deserving of the death sentence, but on whether the defendant can strike an emotional chord in a juror. Pp. 494-495.

860 F.2d 1545, reversed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in all but Part IV of which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 495.

KENNEDY, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before us is whether respondent Robyn Leroy Parks, whose conviction and death sentence became final in

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1983, is entitled to federal habeas relief. His claim is that an instruction in the penalty phase of his trial, telling the jury to avoid any influence of sympathy, violates the Eighth Amendment. In Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), we held that a new rule of constitutional law will not be applied in cases on collateral review unless the rule comes within one of two narrow exceptions. This limitation on the proper exercise of habeas corpus jurisdiction applies to capital and noncapital cases. See id. at 314. We hold that Parks is not entitled to federal habeas relief. The principle he urges is a new rule within the meaning of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). It is not dictated by our prior cases and, were it to be adopted, it would contravene well-considered precedents. We also hold that the rule petitioner asks us to adopt does not come within either of the two exceptions set forth in Teague.

A passing motorist found Abdullah Ibrahim, a native of Bangladesh, dead inside the Oklahoma City gas station where Ibrahim worked. The victim died from a single chest wound inflicted by a .45-caliber pistol. Parks admitted the murder to a friend, and the police obtained tapes of that statement. Parks said that he shot Ibrahim because he was afraid Ibrahim would tell the police that Parks used a stolen credit card to purchase gasoline.

In 1978, a jury found Parks guilty of capital murder. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Parks offered as mitigating evidence the testimony of his father, who described Parks' background and character. Parks' counsel relied upon this testimony in his closing argument, arguing that Parks' youth, race, school experiences, and broken home were mitigating factors that the jury should consider in making its sentencing decision. He asked the jury to show "kindness" to Parks in consideration of his background.

After instructing the jury that it must consider all of the mitigating circumstances, statutory or nonstatutory, proffered by Parks, and that it could consider any mitigating circumstances

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that it found from the evidence, the trial court delivered the following instruction:

You are the judges of the facts. The importance and worth of the evidence is for you to determine. You must avoid any influence of sympathy, sentiment, passion, prejudice, or other arbitrary factor when imposing sentence. You should discharge your duties as jurors impartially, conscientiously and faithfully under your oaths and return such verdict as the evidence warrants when measured by these Instructions.

App. 13. After finding as an aggravating circumstance that the murder was "committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution," Okla.Stat., Tit. 21, § 701.12 (1981), the jury sentenced Parks to death.

[110 S.Ct. 1260] Parks' conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Parks v. State, 651 P.2d 686 (1982), and we denied certiorari, 459 U.S. 1155 (1983). After seeking postconviction relief in the state courts, Parks filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court arguing, inter alia, that the antisympathy instruction delivered in the penalty phase violated the Eighth Amendment because it in effect told the jury to disregard the mitigating evidence that Parks had presented. The District Court denied relief, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Parks v. Brown, 840 F.2d 1496 (1988). On rehearing, the Tenth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed, holding that the antisympathy instruction was unconstitutional for the reasons advanced by Parks. Parks v. Brown, 860 F.2d 1545 (1988). We granted certiorari, 490 U.S. 1034 (1989), and now reverse.

Parks petitions the federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus. As he is before us on collateral review, we must first determine whether the relief sought would create a new rule under our holdings in Teague v. Lane, supra, at 299-301, and Penry, supra, at 313. If so, we will neither announce nor apply the new rule sought by Parks unless it would fall

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into one of two narrow exceptions. Teague, supra, at 307; Penry, supra, at 329.

In Teague, we defined a new rule as a rule that "breaks new ground," "imposes a new obligation on the States or the Federal Government," or was not "dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction became final." Teague, supra, at 301 (emphasis in original). The explicit overruling of an earlier holding no doubt creates a new rule; it is more difficult, however, to determine whether we announce a new rule when a decision extends the reasoning of our prior cases. As we recognized in Butler v. McKellar, ante at 412-414, the question must be answered by reference to the underlying purposes of the habeas writ. Foremost among these is ensuring that state courts conduct criminal proceedings in accordance with the Constitution as interpreted at the time of the proceedings. See id. at 413.

"[T]he threat of habeas serves as a necessary additional incentive for trial and appellate courts throughout the land to conduct their proceedings in a manner consistent with established constitutional standards. In order to perform...

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