Adams v. Texas

Citation65 L.Ed.2d 581,448 U.S. 38,100 S.Ct. 2521
Decision Date25 June 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-5175,79-5175
PartiesRandall Dale ADAMS, Petitioner, v. State of TEXAS
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Trials for capital offenses in Texas are conducted in two phases. First, the jury considers the question of the defendant's guilt or innocence. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the trial court holds a separate sentencing proceeding at which additional evidence in mitigation or aggravation is admissible. The jury is then required by statute to answer three specific questions concerning (1) whether the defendant's conduct causing the death at issue was deliberate, (2) whether the defendant's conduct in the future would constitute a continuing threat to society, and (3) whether his conduct in killing the victim was unreasonable in response to the victim's provocation, if any. If the jury answers "Yes" to each of these questions, the court must impose a death sentence, but if the jury answers "No" to any of the questions, the court imposes a life sentence. At the petitioner's murder trial, the Texas trial judge, pursuant to statute (§ 12.31(b)), excluded from the jury a number of prospective jurors who were unwilling or unable to take an oath that the mandatory penalty of death or life imprisonment would not "affect [their] deliberations on any issue of fact." The jury that was selected convicted petitioner and answered the statutory questions in the affirmative at the punishment phase, thus causing the death sentence to be imposed. On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected petitioner's contention that the prospective jurors had been excluded in violation of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, wherein it was held that a State may not constitutionally execute a death sentence imposed by a jury culled of all those who revealed during voir dire examination that they had conscientious scruples against or were otherwise opposed to capital punishment.

Held: Section 12.31(b) was applied in this case to exclude jurors in contravention of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments as construed and applied in Witherspoon, supra. Pp. 43-51.

(a) The general proposition established by Witherspoon and related cases that a juror may not be challenged for cause based in his views about capital punishment unless those views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and oath, is applicable to the bifurcated procedure employed by Texas in capital cases. If the Texas juror is to obey his oath and follow Texas law, he must be willing not only to accept that in certain circumstances death is an acceptable penalty but also to answer the three statutory questions without conscious distortion or bias. Pp. 43-47.

(b) Witherspoon and § 12.31(b) may not coexist as separate and independent bases for excluding jurors so as to permit exclusion under § 12.31(b) on grounds broader than permitted by Witherspoon. Although the State could, consistently with Witherspoon, use § 12.31(b) to exclude prospective jurors whose views on capital punishment are such as to make them unable to follow the law or obey their oaths, the use of § 12.31(b) to exclude jurors on broader grounds based on their opinions concerning the death penalty is impermissible. The appearance of neutrality created by the theoretical availability of § 12.31(b) as a defense challenge to prospective jurors who favor the death penalty is not sufficiently substantial to take § 12.31(b) out of Witherspoon's ambit. Pp. 47-49.

(c) As § 12.31(b) was employed here, the touchstone of the inquiry was not whether putative jurors could and would follow their instructions and answer the posited questions in the affirmative if they honestly believed the evidence warranted it beyond reasonable doubt, but rather whether the fact that the imposition of the death penalty would follow automatically from affirmative answers to the questions would have any effect at all on the jurors' performance of their duties. Such a test could, and did, exclude jurors whose only fault was to take their responsibilities with special seriousness or to acknowledge honestly that they might or might not be affected. It does not appear that these individuals were so irrevocably opposed to capital punishment as to frustrate the State's legitimate efforts to administer its constitutionally valid death penalty scheme. Accordingly, the Constitution disentitles the State to execute a death sentence imposed by a jury from which such prospective jurors have been excluded. Pp. 49-51.

Tex.Cr.App., 577 S.W.2d 717, reversed.

Melvyn Carson Bruder, Dallas, Tex., for petitioner.

Douglas M. Becker, Austin, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This capital case presents the question whether Texas contravened the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments as construed and applied in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), when it excluded members of the venire from jury service because they were unable to take an oath that the mandatory penalty of death or imprisonment for life would not "affect [their] deliberations on any issue of fact." We hold that there were exclusions that were inconsistent with Witherspoon, and we therefore reverse the sentence of death imposed on the petitioner.

I

Trials for capital offenses in Texas are conducted in a two-phase proceeding. See Tex.Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 37.071 (Vernon Supp.1979). In the first phase, the jury considers the question of the defendant's guilt or innocence. If the jury finds the defendant guilty of a capital offense, the trial court holds a separate sentencing proceeding at which a wide range of additional evidence in mitigation or aggravation is admissible. The jury is then required to answer the following questions based on evidence adduced during either phase of the trial:

"(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." Art. 37.071(b).

If the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer to each of these questions is "Yes," the court is required to impose a sentence of death. If the jury finds that the answer to any of the three questions is "No," the court imposes a sentence of life imprisonment. Arts. 37.071(c), (e).

The petitioner in this case was charged with the capital offense of murdering a peace officer.1 During voir dire examination of individual prospective jurors, the prosecutor, and sometimes the trial judge, intensively inquired as to whether their attitudes about the death penalty permitted them to take the oath set forth in Tex.Penal Code Ann. § 12.31(b) (1974). Section 12.31(b) provides as follows:

"Prospective jurors shall be informed that a sentence of life imprisonment or death is mandatory on conviction of a capital felony. A prospective juror shall be disqualified from serving as a juror unless he states under oath that the mandatory penalty of death or imprisonment for life will not affect his deliberations on any issue of fact."

Typically, the prospective juror was first advised that the State was seeking the death penalty and asked to state his general views on the subject, which were sometimes explored in considerable depth. He was then informed in detail of the special procedure used by Texas in capital cases, including in particular the fact that "Yes" answers to the three punishment questions would automatically result in the trial judge's imposing the death sentence. Finally, he was asked whether he could state under oath, as required by § 12.31(b), that the mandatory penalty of death or imprisonment for life would not affect his deliberations on any issue of fact. On the State's submission and over petitioner's objections, the trial judge excused a number of prospective jurors who were unwilling or unable to take the § 12.31(b) oath.

The jury selected under this procedure convicted the petitioner of the charged offense and answered the statutory questions affirmatively at the punishment phase, thus causing the trial judge to impose the death sentence as required by Art. 37.071(e). On appeal, the petitioner argued that prospective jurors had been excluded in violation of this Court's decision in Witherspoon v. Illinois, supra. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the contention on the authority of its previous cases, which had "consistently held that the statutory scheme for the selection of jurors in capital cases in Texas, and in particular the application of [§ 12.31(b)] to the punishment issues, comports with the constitutional require- ments of Witherspoon." 577 S.W.2d 717, 728 (1979). We granted the petition for a writ of certiorari, 444 U.S. 990, 100 S.Ct. 519, 62 L.Ed.2d 419 (1979), limited to the following questions:

"(1) Is the doctrine of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, applicable to the bifurcated procedure employed by Texas in capital cases? (2) If so, did the exclusion from jury service in the present case of prospective jurors pursuant to Texas Penal Code § 12.31(b) violate the doctrine of Witherspoon v. Illinois, supra ?" 2

II
A.

Witherspoon involved a state procedure for selecting jurors in capital cases, where the jury did the sentencing and had complete discretion as to whether the death penalty should be imposed. In this context, the Court held that a State may not constitutionally execute a death sentence imposed by a jury culled of all those who...

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