509 U.S. 350 (1993), 92-5653, Johnson v. Texas

Docket Nº:Case No. 92-5653
Citation:509 U.S. 350, 113 S.Ct. 2658, 125 L.Ed.2d 290, 61 U.S.L.W. 4738
Case Date:June 24, 1993
Court:United States Supreme Court

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509 U.S. 350 (1993)

113 S.Ct. 2658, 125 L.Ed.2d 290, 61 U.S.L.W. 4738




Case No. 92-5653

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1993

Argued April 26, 1993



A jury found petitioner Johnson guilty of capital murder for a crime he committed when he was 19 years old. In conformity with the Texas capital sentencing statute then in effect, the trial court instructed the jury during the trial's penalty phase to answer two special issues: (1) whether Johnson's conduct was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that death would result, and (2) whether there was a probability that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. The jury was also instructed, inter alia, that in determining each of these issues, it could take into consideration all the evidence submitted to it, whether aggravating or mitigating, in either phase of the trial. A unanimous jury answered yes to both special issues, and the trial court sentenced Johnson to death, as required by law. Shortly after the State Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, this Court issued Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302. In denying Johnson's motion for rehearing, the state appellate court rejected his contentions that the special issues did not allow his jury to give adequate mitigating effect to evidence of his youth and that Penry required a separate instruction on the question.


The Texas procedures as applied in this case were consistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under this Court's precedents. Pp. 359-373.

(a) A review of the Court's relevant decisions demonstrates the constitutional requirements regarding consideration of mitigating circumstances by sentencers in capital cases. Although the sentencer cannot be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of the defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the particular offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death, see, e. g., Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604 (plurality opinion); Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, States are free to structure and shape consideration of mitigating evidence in an effort to achieve a more rational and equitable administration of the death penalty, see, e. g., Boyde v. California, 494 U.S. 370, 377. Pp. 359-362.

(b) The Texas law under which Johnson was sentenced has been the principal concern of a series of opinions in this Court. Although, in Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 276, 277, six Justices agreed that, as a

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general matter, the special issues system satisfied the foregoing constitutional requirements, the Court later held, in Penry v. Lynaugh, supra, that the system did not allow for sufficient consideration of the defendant's mitigating evidence of his mental retardation and childhood abuse in light of his particular circumstances, id., at 320-323, and that the trial court erred in not instructing the jury that it could consider and give effect to that mitigating evidence by declining to impose the death penalty, id., at 328. However, the Court concluded that it was not creating a new rule, and characterized its holding as a straightforward application of Jurek, Lockett, and Eddings, making it clear that these cases can stand together with Penry, see 492 U.S., at 314-318. The Court confirmed this limited view of Penry and its scope in Graham v. Collins, 506 U.S. 461, 474, and held that the defendant's mitigating evidence of his youth, family background, and positive character traits was not placed beyond the jury's effective reach by the Texas scheme, id., at 475. Pp. 362-366.

(c) The Texas special issues allowed adequate consideration of Johnson's youth. There is no reasonable likelihood, see Boyde, supra, at 380, that Johnson's jury would have found itself foreclosed from considering the relevant aspects of his youth, since it received the second special issue instruction and was told to consider all mitigating evidence. That there is ample room in the future dangerousness assessment for a juror to take account of youth as a mitigating factor is what distinguishes this case from Penry, supra, at 323. There, the second special issue did not allow the jury to give mitigating effect to expert medical testimony that the defendant's mental retardation prevented him from learning from experience, since that evidence could only logically be considered within the future dangerousness inquiry as an aggravating factor. In contrast, youth's ill effects are subject to change as a defendant ages and, as a result, are readily comprehended as a mitigating factor in consideration of the second special issue. Because such consideration is a comprehensive inquiry that is more than a question of historical fact, the Court rejects Johnson's related arguments that the second special issue's forward-looking perspective and narrowness prevented the jury from, respectively, taking account of how his youth bore upon his personal culpability and making a "reasoned moral response" to the evidence of his youth. For the Court to find a constitutional defect in Johnson's sentence, it would have to overrule Jurek by requiring a further instruction whenever a defendant introduced mitigating evidence that had some arguable relevance beyond the special issues; alter the rule of Lockett and Eddings to require that a jury be able to give effect to mitigating evidence in every conceivable manner in which it might be

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relevant; and remove the States' power to structure the consideration of mitigating evidence under, e. g., Boyde. Pp. 366-373.

773 S.W.2d 322, affirmed.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Scalia, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., post p. 373, and Thomas, J., post, p. 374, filed concurring opinions. O'Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Blackmun, Stevens, and Souter, JJ., joined, post, p. 374.

Michael E. Tigar argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Robert C. Owen and Jeffrey J. Pokorak.

Dana E. Parker, Assistant Attorney General of Texas, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Dan Morales, Attorney General, Will Pryor, First Assistant Attorney General, Mary F. Keller, Deputy Attorney General, and Michael P. Hodge, Assistant Attorney General.[*]

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

For the second time this Term, we consider a constitutional challenge to the former Texas capital sentencing system. Like the condemned prisoner in Graham v. Collins, 506 U.S. 461 (1993), the petitioner here claims that the Texas special issues system in effect until 1991 did not allow his jury to give adequate mitigating effect to evidence of his youth. Graham was a federal habeas corpus proceeding where the petitioner had to confront the rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), barring the application of new rules of law on federal habeas corpus. In part because the relief sought by Graham would have required a new rule within the meaning of Teague, we denied relief. The instant case comes to us on direct review of petitioner's conviction and sentence, so we consider it without the constraints of Teague, though of course with the customary respect for the

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doctrine of stare decisis. Based upon our precedents, including much of the reasoning in Graham, we find the Texas procedures as applied in this case were consistent with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.


Petitioner, then 19 years of age, and his companion, Amanda Miles, decided to rob Allsup's convenience store in Snyder, Texas, on March 23, 1986. After agreeing that there should be no witnesses to the crime, the pair went to the store to survey its layout and, in particular, to determine the number of employees working in the store that evening. They found that the only employee present during the predawn hours was a clerk, Jack Huddleston. Petitioner and Miles left the store to make their final plans.

They returned to Allsup's a short time later. Petitioner, a handgun in his pocket, reentered the store with Miles. After waiting for other customers to leave, petitioner asked Huddleston whether the store had any orange juice in one gallon plastic jugs because there were none on the shelves. Saying he would check, Huddleston went to the store's cooler. Petitioner followed Huddleston there, told Huddleston the store was being robbed, and ordered him to lie on the floor. After Huddleston complied with the order and placed his hands behind his head, petitioner shot him in the back of the neck, killing him. When petitioner emerged from the cooler, Miles had emptied the cash registers of about $160. They each grabbed a carton of cigarettes and fled.

In April 1986, a few weeks after this crime, petitioner was arrested for a subsequent robbery and attempted murder of a store clerk in Colorado City, Texas. He confessed to the murder of Jack Huddleston and the robbery of Allsup's and was tried and convicted of capital murder. The homicide qualified as a capital offense under Texas law because petitioner intentionally or knowingly caused Huddleston's death

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and the murder was carried out in the course of committing a robbery. Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 19.02(a)(1), 19.03(a)(2)(1989).

After the jury determined that petitioner was guilty of capital murder, a separate punishment phase of the proceedings was conducted in which petitioner's sentence was determined. In conformity with the Texas capital sentencing statute then in effect, see Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 37.071(b) (Vernon 1981),[1] the trial court instructed the jury that it was to answer two special issues:

"[(1)] Was the conduct of the Defendant, Dorsie Lee Johnson, Jr., that caused the death of the...

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