Espinosa v. Florida, No. 91-7390

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM; SCALIA
Citation120 L.Ed.2d 854,505 U.S. 1079,112 S.Ct. 2926
Decision Date29 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-7390
PartiesHenry Jose ESPINOSA, Petitioner, v. FLORIDA

505 U.S. 1079
112 S.Ct. 2926
120 L.Ed.2d 854
Henry Jose ESPINOSA, Petitioner,

v.

FLORIDA.

No. 91-7390.
June 29, 1992.

Rehearing Denied Sept. 4, 1992. See U.S. , 113 S.Ct. 26.

PER CURIAM.

Under Florida law, after a defendant is found guilty of a capital felony, a separate sentencing proceeding is conducted to determine whether the sentence should be life imprisonment or death. Fla.Stat. § 921.141(1) (1991). At the close of a hearing at which the prosecution and the defense may present evidence and argument in favor of and against the death penalty, ibid., the trial judge charges the jurors to consider "[w]hether sufficient aggravating circumstances exist," "[w]hether sufficient mitigating circumstances exist which outweigh the aggravating circumstances," and "[b]ased on these considerations, whether the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment or death." § 921.141(2). The verdict does not include specific findings of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but states only the jury's sentencing recommendation. "Notwithstanding the recommendation of a majority of the jury," the trial court itself must then "weig[h] the aggravating and mitigating circumstances" to determine finally whether the sentence will be life or death. § 921.141(3). If the trial court fixes punishment at death, the court must issue a written statement of the circumstances found and weighed. Ibid.

A Florida jury found petitioner Henry Jose Espinosa guilty of first-degree murder. At the close of the evidence in the penalty hearing, the trial court instructed the jury on aggravating factors. One of the instructions informed the jury that it was entitled to find as an aggravating factor that the murder of which it had found Espinosa guilty was "especially wicked, evil, atrocious or cruel." See § 921.141(5)(h). The jury recommended that the trial court impose death, and the court, finding four aggravating and two mitigating factors, did so. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Florida, petitioner argued that the "wicked, evil, atrocious or cruel" instruction was vague and therefore left the jury with insufficient guidance when to find the existence of the aggravating factor. The court rejected this argument and affirmed, saying: "We reject Espinosa's complaint with respect to the text of the jury instruction on the heinous, atrocious, or cruel aggravating factor upon the rationale of Smalley v. State, 546 So.2d 720 (Fla.1989)." 589 So.2d 887, 894 (1991).

Our cases establish that, in a State where the sentencer weighs aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the weighing of an invalid aggravating circumstance violates the Eighth Amendment. See Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. ----, ----, 112 S.Ct. 2114, 2119, --- L.Ed.2d ---- (1992); Stringer v. Black, 503 U.S. ----, ----, 112 S.Ct. 1130, 1140, 117 L.Ed.2d 367 (1992); Parker v. Dugger, 498 U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 731, 738, 112 L.Ed.2d 812 (1991); Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U.S. 738, 752, 110 S.Ct. 1441, 1450, 108 L.Ed.2d 725 (1990). Our cases further establish that an aggravating circumstance is invalid in this sense if its description is so vague as to leave the sentencer without sufficient guidance for determining the presence or absence of the...

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294 practice notes
  • Breedlove v. Moore, No. 98-0953-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • September 8, 1999
    ...Breedlove filed a third motion for post-conviction relief based on the then Page 1230 recently-decided opinion of Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992). Breedlove argued that under Espinosa, the jury instruction on "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" given a......
  • Nelson v. Sec'y, Case No: 2:11-cv-327-Ftm-29CM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • August 20, 2014
    ...is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and thus violative of the Eighth Amendment." Id. at 109. Petitioner cites Espinoza v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992), Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356 (1988), and Shell v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 1 (1990) in support of this claim. Id. Respondent arg......
  • Williams v. State, CR–12–1862.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 4, 2014
    ...518, 539, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). In Lambrix, the Court considered whether the rule announced in Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992), constituted a substantive or procedural rule under the Teague doctrine. 520 U.S. at 526–27, 117 S.Ct. ......
  • Moore v. Kinney, No. 4:99CV3263.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Nebraska
    • November 14, 2000
    ...resentencing panel committed constitutional error in considering this aggravator to resentence the petitioner. See Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 1081, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992)(in state where sentencer weighs aggravating and mitigating circumstances in determining whether......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
293 cases
  • Breedlove v. Moore, No. 98-0953-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • September 8, 1999
    ...Breedlove filed a third motion for post-conviction relief based on the then Page 1230 recently-decided opinion of Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992). Breedlove argued that under Espinosa, the jury instruction on "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" given a......
  • Nelson v. Sec'y, Case No: 2:11-cv-327-Ftm-29CM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • August 20, 2014
    ...is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and thus violative of the Eighth Amendment." Id. at 109. Petitioner cites Espinoza v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992), Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356 (1988), and Shell v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 1 (1990) in support of this claim. Id. Respondent arg......
  • Williams v. State, CR–12–1862.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 4, 2014
    ...518, 539, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). In Lambrix, the Court considered whether the rule announced in Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992), constituted a substantive or procedural rule under the Teague doctrine. 520 U.S. at 526–27, 117 S.Ct. ......
  • Moore v. Kinney, No. 4:99CV3263.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Nebraska
    • November 14, 2000
    ...resentencing panel committed constitutional error in considering this aggravator to resentence the petitioner. See Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079, 1081, 112 S.Ct. 2926, 120 L.Ed.2d 854 (1992)(in state where sentencer weighs aggravating and mitigating circumstances in determining whether......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74 (1970)Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982)Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982)Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992)Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981)Florida v. Nixon, 543 U.S. 175 (2004)Ford v. Georgia, 498 U.S. 411 (1991)Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (......

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