506 U.S. 461 (1993), 91-7580, Graham v. Collins

Docket Nº:No. 91-7580
Citation:506 U.S. 461, 113 S.Ct. 892, 122 L.Ed.2d 260, 61 U.S.L.W. 4127
Party Name:Graham v. Collins
Case Date:January 25, 1993
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 461

506 U.S. 461 (1993)

113 S.Ct. 892, 122 L.Ed.2d 260, 61 U.S.L.W. 4127




No. 91-7580

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 25, 1993

Argued Oct. 14, 1992


Petitioner Graham's capital murder conviction and death sentence became final in 1984. After unsuccessfully seeking postconviction relief in the Texas state courts, he filed this habeas corpus action in Federal District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the three "special issues" his sentencing jury was required to answer under the state capital sentencing statute then in existence prevented the jury from giving effect, consistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, to mitigating evidence of his youth, unstable family background, and positive character traits. In affirming the District Court's denial of relief, the Court of Appeals reviewed this Court's holdings on the constitutional requirement that a sentencer be permitted to consider and act upon any relevant mitigating evidence put forth by a capital defendant, and then ruled that Graham's jury could give adequate mitigating effect to the evidence in question by way of answering the special issues.

Held: Graham's claim is barred because the relief he seeks would require announcement of a new rule of constitutional law, in contravention of the principles set forth in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 301 (plurality opinion). Pp. 466-478.

(a) A holding that was not "dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction became final" constitutes a "new rule," ibid., which, absent the applicability of one of two exceptions, cannot be applied or announced in a case on collateral review, Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 313. Thus, the determinative question is whether reasonable jurists hearing Graham's claim in 1984 "would have felt compelled by existing precedent" to rule in his favor. See Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 488. Pp. 466-467.

(b) It cannot be said that reasonable jurists hearing Graham's claim in 1984 would have felt that existing precedent "dictated " vacatur of his death sentence within Teague's meaning. To the contrary, the joint opinion of Justices Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, in Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 270-276, could reasonably be read as having upheld the constitutionality of the very statutory scheme under which Graham was sentenced, including the so-called "special issues," only after being satisfied

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that the petitioner's mitigating evidence, including his age, would be given constitutionally adequate consideration in the course of the jury's deliberation on the special issues. Moreover, [113 S.Ct. 895] Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 605-606 (plurality opinion), expressly embraced the Jurek holding, and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, signaled no retreat from that conclusion. Thus, it is likely that reasonable jurists in 1984 would have found that, under these cases, the Texas statute satisfied the commands of the Eighth Amendment: it permitted Graham to place before the jury whatever mitigating evidence he could show, including his age, while focusing the jury's attention upon what that evidence revealed about his capacity for deliberation and prospects for rehabilitation. Nothing in this Court's post-1984 cases, to the extent they are relevant, would undermine this analysis. Even if Penry, supra, upon which Graham chiefly relies, reasonably could be read to suggest that his mitigating evidence was not adequately considered under the Texas procedures, that does not answer the determinative question under Teague. Pp. 467-477.

(c) The new rule that Graham seeks would not fall within either of the Teague exceptions. The first exception plainly has no application here, because Graham's rule would neither decriminalize a class of conduct nor prohibit the imposition of capital punishment on a particular class of persons. See Saffle, supra, 494 U.S. at 495. The second exception, for watershed rules implicating fundamental fairness and accuracy, is also inapplicable, since denying Graham special jury instructions concerning his mitigating evidence would not seriously diminish the likelihood of obtaining an accurate determination in his sentencing proceeding. See Butler v. McKellar, 494 U.S. 407, 416. PP. 477-478.

950 F.2d 1009 (CA5 1992), affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 478. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 500. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 504.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we are asked to decide whether the jury that sentenced petitioner, Gary Graham, to death was able to give effect, consistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, to mitigating evidence of Graham's youth, family background, and positive character traits. Because this case comes to us on collateral review, however, we must first decide whether the relief that petitioner seeks would require announcement of a new rule of constitutional law, in contravention of the principles set forth in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). Concluding that Graham's claim is barred by Teague, we affirm.


On the night of May 13, 1981, Graham accosted Bobby Grant Lambert in the parking lot of a Houston, Texas, grocery store and attempted to grab his wallet. When Lambert resisted, Graham drew a pistol and shot him to death. Five months later, a jury rejected Graham's defense of mistaken identity and convicted him of capital murder in violation of Tex.Penal Code Ann. § 19.03(a)(2) (1989).

At the sentencing phase of Graham's trial, the State offered evidence that Graham's murder of Lambert commenced a week of violent attacks during which the 17-year-old Graham committed a string of robberies, several assaults, and one rape. Graham did not contest this evidence. Rather, in mitigation, the defense offered testimony from Graham's [113 S.Ct. 896] stepfather and grandmother concerning his upbringing and positive character traits. The stepfather, Joe Samby, testified that Graham, who lived and worked with his natural father, typically visited his mother once or twice a

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week, and was a "real nice, respectable" person. Samby further testified that Graham would pitch in on family chores, and that Graham, himself a father of two young children, would "buy . . . clothes for his children and try to give them food."

Graham's grandmother, Emma Chron, testified that Graham had lived with her off and on throughout his childhood because his mother had been hospitalized periodically for a "nervous condition." Chron also stated that she had never known Graham to be violent or disrespectful, that he attended church regularly while growing up, and that "[h]e loved the Lord." In closing arguments to the jury, defense counsel depicted Graham's criminal behavior as aberrational, and urged the jury to take Graham's youth into account in deciding his punishment.

In accord with the capital sentencing statute then in effect,[1] Graham's jury was instructed that it was to answer three "special issues":

(1) whether the conduct of the defendant that caused the death of the deceased was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death of the deceased or another would result;

(2) whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; and

(3) if raised by the evidence, whether the conduct of the defendant in killing the deceased was unreasonable in response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased.

Tex.Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 37.071(b) (Vernon 1981). The jury unanimously answered each of these questions in the affirmative, and the court, as required by the statute,

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sentenced Graham to death. Art. 37.071(e). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Graham's conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion.

In 1987, Graham unsuccessfully sought postconviction relief in the Texas state courts. The following year, Graham petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, contending, inter alia, that his sentencing jury had been unable to give effect to his mitigating evidence within the confines of the statutory "special issues." The District Court denied relief and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Graham's petition for a certificate of probable cause to appeal. Graham v. Lynaugh, 854 F.2d 715 (1988). The Court of Appeals found Graham's claim to be foreclosed by our recent decision in Franklin v. Lynaugh, 487 U.S. 164 (1988), which held that a sentencing jury was fully able to consider and give effect to mitigating evidence of a defendant's clean prison disciplinary record by way of answering Texas' special issues. 854 F.2d at 719-720.

While Graham's petition for a writ of certiorari was pending here, the Court announced its decision in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), holding that evidence of a defendant's mental retardation and abused childhood could not be given mitigating effect by a jury within the framework of the special issues.[2] We then granted Graham's petition, vacated the judgment below, and remanded for reconsideration [113 S.Ct. 897] in light of Penry. Graham v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 915 (1989). On remand, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court and vacated Graham's death sentence. 896 F.2d 893 (CA5 1990).

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On rehearing en banc, the Court of Appeals vacated the panel's decision and reinstated its prior mandate affirming the District Court. 950 F.2d 1009 (1992). The court reviewed our holdings on the constitutional requirement that a sentencer be permitted to consider and act upon any...

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