Baldwin v. Alabama, No. 84-5743

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKMUN
Citation105 S.Ct. 2727,472 U.S. 372,86 L.Ed.2d 300
Docket NumberNo. 84-5743
Decision Date17 June 1985
PartiesBrian Keith BALDWIN, Petitioner, v. ALABAMA

472 U.S. 372
105 S.Ct. 2727
86 L.Ed.2d 300
Brian Keith BALDWIN, Petitioner,

v.

ALABAMA.

No. 84-5743.
Argued March 27, 1985.
Decided June 17, 1985.
Syllabus

Alabama's 1975 Death Penalty Act (later repealed) required a jury that convicted a defendant of any one of a number of specified aggravated crimes to "fix the punishment at death." However, the "sentence" fixed by the jury was not dispositive, because the Act provided that "[n]otwithstanding the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury, the court, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances" brought out at a required sentencing hearing, could refuse to accept the death penalty and, instead, could impose a life sentence, or, after weighing such circumstances, "and the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury," could sentence the defendant to death. Petitioner was convicted under the Act of a specified capital offense, and the jury's verdict fixed his punishment at death. After conducting the required sentencing hearing and weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the judge accepted the death penalty as fixed by the jury. The Alabama Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the conviction and sentence, rejecting petitioner's contention that the Act was facially unconstitutional. The court held that even though the jury had no discretion regarding the "sentence" it would impose, the sentencing procedure was saved by the fact that it was the trial judge who was the true sentencing authority, and he considered aggravating and mitigating circumstances before imposing sentence.

Held: Alabama's requirement that the jury return a "sentence" of death along with its guilty verdict did not render unconstitutional the death sentence the trial judge imposed after independently considering petitioner's background and character and the circumstances of his crime. Pp. 379-389.

(a) Although the Alabama scheme would have been unconstitutional if the jury's mandatory death "sentence" were dispositive, there is no merit to petitioner's contention that the trial judge's sentence was unconstitutional because the Act required the judge to consider, and accord some deference to, the jury's "sentence." While the Act's language did not expressly preclude, and might seem to have authorized, the sentencing judge's consideration of the jury's "sentence" in determining whether the death penalty was appropriate, the Alabama appellate courts have interpreted the Act to mean that the sentencing judge was to impose a sentence without regard to the jury's mandatory "sentence." More-

Page 373

over, it was clear that the sentencing judge here did not interpret the statute as requiring him to consider the jury's "sentence," because he never described the "sentence" as a factor in his deliberations. Pp. 382-386.

(b) Nor is there merit to the contention that a trial judge's decision to impose the death penalty must have been swayed by the fact that the jury returned a "sentence" of death. Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392 distinguished. The judge knew that determination of the appropriate sentence was not within the jury's province, and that the jury did not consider evidence in mitigation in arriving at its "sentence." Pp. 386-389.

456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), affirmed.

John L. Carroll, Montgomery, Ala., for petitioner.

Edward Earl Carnes, Montgomery, Ala., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Between 1976 and 1981, an Alabama statute required a jury that convicted a defendant of any one of a number of specified crimes "with aggravation" to "fix the punishment at death." Ala.Code § 13-11-2(a) (1975).1 The "sentence"

Page 374

imposed by the jury, however, was not dispositive. Instead, "[n]otwithstanding the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury," § 13-11-4, the trial judge then was to hear evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and, after weighing those circumstances, to sentence the defendant to death or to life imprisonment without parole.

This case concerns the constitutionality of the peculiar and unusual requirement of the 1975 Alabama Act that the jury "shall fix the punishment at death," even though the trial judge is the actual sentencing authority.2 The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the scheme was facially unconstitutional. Ritter v. Smith, 726 F.2d 1505, 1515-1517, cert. denied, 469 U.S. 869, 105 S.Ct. 218, 83 L.Ed.2d 148 (1984). Shortly thereafter, however, the Supreme Court of Alabama, with two dissenting votes, ruled to the contrary in the present case. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129, 138-139 (1984). We granted certiorari to resolve this significant conflict. 469 U.S. 1085, 105 S.Ct. 589, 83 L.Ed.2d 699 (1984).

I
A.

The facts are sordid, but a brief recital of them must be made. Petitioner Brian Keith Baldwin, then 18 years of age, escaped from a North Carolina prison camp on Saturday, March 12, 1977. That evening, he and a fellow escapee, Edward Horsley, came upon 16-year-old Naomi Rolon, who was having trouble with her automobile. The two forcibly took over her car and drove her to Charlotte, N.C. There, both men attempted to rape her, petitioner sodomized her, and the two attempted to choke her to death. They then ran over her with the car, locked her in its trunk, and left

Page 375

her there while they drove through Georgia and Alabama. Twice, when they heard the young woman cry out, they stopped the car, opened the trunk, and stabbed her repeatedly. On Monday afternoon, they stole a pickup truck, drove both vehicles to a secluded spot, and, after again using the car to run over the victim, cut her throat with a hatchet. She died after this 40-hour ordeal.

Petitioner was apprehended the following day driving the stolen truck. He was charged with theft. While in custody, he confessed to the victim's murder and led the police to her body. He was then indicted for "robbery . . . when the victim is intentionally killed," a capital offense, § 13-11-2(a)(2), and was tried before a jury in Monroe County. At the close of the evidence regarding guilt or innocence, the judge instructed the jury that if it found the petitioner guilty, "the Legislature of the State of Alabama has said this is a situation [in] which . . . the punishment would be death by electrocution," Tr. 244-245, and the jury therefore would be required to sentence petitioner to death. Id., at 242. The jury found petitioner guilty, in the terms of the statute, of robbery with the aggravated circumstance of intentionally killing the victim, and returned a verdict form that stated: "We, the Jury, find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment and fix his punishment at death by electrocution." App. 4.

B

Under Alabama's 1975 Death Penalty Act, once a defendant was convicted of any one of 14 specified aggravated offenses, see Ala.Code § 13-11-2(a) (1975), and the jury returned the required death sentence, the trial judge was obligated to hold a sentencing hearing:

"[T]he court shall thereupon hold a hearing to aid the court to determine whether or not the court will sentence the defendant to death or to life imprisonment without parole. In the hearing, evidence may be presented as to any matter that the court deems relevant to

Page 376

sentence and shall include any matters relating to any of the aggravating or mitigating circumstances enumerated in sections 13-11-6 and 13-11-7." § 13-11-3.

The judge was then required to sentence the defendant to death or to life imprisonment without parole:

"Notwithstanding the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury, the court, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, may refuse to accept the death penalty as fixed by the jury and sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without parole, which shall be served without parole; or the court, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury, may accordingly sentence the defendant to death." § 13-11-4.

If the court imposed a death sentence, it was required to set forth in writing the factual findings from the trial and the sentencing hearing, including the aggravating and mitigating circumstances that formed the basis for the sentence. Ibid. The judgment of conviction and sentence of death were subject to automatic review by the Court of Criminal Appeals, and, if that court affirmed, by the Supreme Court of Alabama. §§ 13-11-5, 12-22-150; Ala.Rules App.Proc. 39(c). See Beck v. State, 396 So.2d 645, 664 (Ala.1981); Evans v. Britton, 472 F.Supp. 707, 713-714, 723-724 (SD Ala.1979), rev'd on other grounds, 628 F.2d 400 (CA5 1980), 639 F.2d 221 (1981), rev'd sub nom. Hopper v. Evans, 456 U.S. 605, 102 S.Ct. 2049, 72 L.Ed.2d 367 (1982).

C

Following petitioner's conviction, the trial judge held the sentencing hearing required by § 13-11-3. The State reintroduced the evidence submitted at trial, and introduced petitioner's juvenile and adult criminal records, as well as Edward Horsley's statement regarding the crime. Petitioner then took the stand and testified that he had "a hard

Page 377

time growing up"; that he left home at the age of 13 because his father did not like him to come home late at night; that he dropped out of school after the ninth grade; that he made a living by "street hustling"; that he had been arrested approximately 30 times; and that he was a drug addict. App. 8-10. At the conclusion of petitioner's testimony, the trial judge stated:

"Brian Keith Baldwin, today is the day you have in court to tell this judge whatever is on your mind . . ., now is your time to tell the judge anything that you feel like might be helpful to you in the position that you find yourself in. I want to give you every opportunity in the world that I know about. . . . Anything you feel like you can tell this Judge that will help you in your...

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151 practice notes
  • Sochor v. Florida, No. 91-5843
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 8, 1992
    ...runs, error at the jury stage taints a death sentence, even if the trial judge's decision is otherwise error free. Cf. Baldwin v. Alabama, 472 U.S. 372, 382, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 2733, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). While Sochor concedes that the general advisory jury verdict does not reveal whether the......
  • Reeves v. State, CR-13-1504.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • June 10, 2016
    ...of counsel has the burden of showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). "Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result of rea......
  • Lawhorn v. State, No. CR-96-0646.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • March 26, 1999
    ...the claimant has the burden of showing that his counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). "Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result ......
  • Jones v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 30, 1999
    ...of counsel has the burden of showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). `Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result of rea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
150 cases
  • Reeves v. State, CR-13-1504.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • June 10, 2016
    ...of counsel has the burden of showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). "Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result of rea......
  • Lawhorn v. State, No. CR-96-0646.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • March 26, 1999
    ...the claimant has the burden of showing that his counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). "Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result ......
  • Jones v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 30, 1999
    ...of counsel has the burden of showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). `Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result of rea......
  • Clark v. State, CR–12–1965.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • March 13, 2015
    ...of counsel has the burden of showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective. Ex parte Baldwin, 456 So.2d 129 (Ala.1984), aff'd, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985). “Once a petitioner has identified the specific acts or omissions that he alleges were not the result of rea......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Rumsey, 467 U.S. 203 (1984)Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)Ayers v. Belmontes, 127 S. Ct. 469 (2006)Baldwin v. Alabama, 472 U.S. 372 (1985)Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668 (2004)Barclay v. Florida, 463 U.S. 939 (1983)Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880 (1983)Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (......

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