Lockett v. Ohio

Decision Date03 July 1978
Docket NumberNo. 76-6997,76-6997
PartiesSandra LOCKETT, Petitioner, v. State of OHIO
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The Ohio death penalty statute provides that once a defendant is found guilty of aggravated murder with at least one of seven specified aggravating circumstances, the death penalty must be imposed unless considering "the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history, character, and condition of the offender," the sentencing judge determines that at least one of the following circumstances is established by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) the victim induced or facilitated the offense; (2) it is unlikely that the offense would have been committed but for the fact that the offender was under duress, coercion, or strong provocation; or (3) the offense was primarily the product of the offender's psychosis or mental deficiency. Petitioner, whose conviction of aggravated murder with specifications that it was committed to escape apprehension for, and while committing or attempting to commit, aggravated robbery, and whose sentence to death were affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court, makes various challenges to the validity of her conviction, and attacks the constitutionality of the death penalty statute on the ground, inter alia, that it does not give the sentencing judge a full opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances in capital cases as required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Held : The judgment is reversed insofar as it upheld the death penalty and the case is remanded. Pp. 594-609; 613-619; 619-621; 624-628.

49 Ohio St.2d 48, 358 N.E.2d 1062, reversed in part and remanded.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, concluding:

1. The prosecutor's closing references to the State's evidence as "unrefuted" and "uncontradicted" (no evidence having been introduced to rebut the prosecutor's case after petitioner decided not to testify) did not violate the constitutional prohibitions against commenting on an accused's failure to testify, where petitioner's counsel had already focused the jury's attention on her silence by promising a defense and telling the jury that she would testify. Pp. 2959-2960.

2. The exclusion from the venire of four prospective jurors who made it "unmistakably clear" that because of their opposition to the death penalty, they could not be trusted to "abide by existing law" and to "follow conscientiously" the trial judge's instructions, Boulden v. Holman, 394 U.S. 478, 484, 89 S.Ct. 1138, 1142, 22 L.Ed.2d 433, did not violate petitioner's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the principles of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, or Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 95 S.Ct. 692, 42 L.Ed.2d 690. Pp. 595-597.

3. Petitioner's contention that the Ohio Supreme Court's interpretation of the complicity provision of the statute under which she was convicted was so unexpected that it deprived her of fair warning of the crime with which she was charged, is without merit. The court's construction was consistent with both prior Ohio law and the statute's legislative history. P. 597.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. Justice STEVENS, concluded, in Part III, that the limited range of mitigating circumstances that may be considered by the sentencer under the Ohio death penalty statute is incompatible with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 597-609.

(a) The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer, in all but the rarest kind of capital case, not be precluded from considering as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death. Pp. 604-605.

(b) The need for treating each defendant in a capital case with the degree of respect due the uniqueness of the individual is far more important than in noncapital cases, particularly in view of the unavailability with respect to an executed capital sentence of such postconviction mechanisms in noncapital cases as probation, parole, and work furloughs. P. 605.

(c) A statute that prevents the sentencer in capital cases from giving independent mitigating weight to aspects of the defendant's character and record and to the circumstances of the offense proffered in mitigation creates the risk that the death penalty will be imposed in spite of factors that may call for a less severe penalty, and when the choice is between life and death, such risk is unacceptable and incompatible with the commands of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. P. 605.

(d) The Ohio death penalty statute does not permit the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Only the three factors specified in the statute can be considered in mitigation of the defendant's sentence, and once it is determined that none of those factors is present, the statute mandates the death sentence. Pp. 606-608.

Mr. Justice WHITE concluded that petitioner's death sentence should be vacated on the ground that the Ohio death penalty statute permits a defendant convicted of aggravated murder with specifications to be sentenced to death, as petitioner was in this case, without a finding that he intended death to result. Pp. 624-628.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL, being of the view that the death penalty is, under all circumstances, a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, concurred in the judgment insofar as it vacates petitioner's death sentence, and also concurred in the judgment insofar as it affirms her conviction. Pp. 619-621.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN concluded that petitioner's death sentence should be vacated on the grounds that (1) the Ohio death penalty statute is deficient in regard to petitioner, a nontriggerman charged with aiding and abetting a murder, in failing to allow consideration of the extent of petitioner's involvement, or the degree of her mens rea, in the commission of the homicide, and (2) the procedure provided by an Ohio Rule of Criminal Procedure giving the sentencing court full discretion to bar the death sentence "in the interests of justice" if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, but no such discretion if the defendant goes to trial, creat § an unconstitutional disparity of sentencing alternatives. United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570, 88 S.Ct. 1209, 20 L.Ed.2d 138. Pp. 613-619.

Anthony G. Amsterdam, Stanford, Cal., for petitioner.

Carl M. Layman, III, Akron, Ohio, for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to the constitutionality of petitioner's conviction (Parts I and II), together with an opinion (Part III), in which Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. Justice STEVENS joined, on the constitutionality of the statute under which petitioner was sentenced to death, and announced the judgment of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider, among other questions, whether Ohio violated the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments by sentencing Sandra Lockett to death pursuant to a statute 1 that narrowly limits the sentencer's discretion to consider the circumstances of the crime and the record and character of the offender as mitigating factors.


Lockett was charged with aggravated murder with the aggravating specifications (1) that the murder was "committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment" for aggravated robbery, and (2) that the murder was "committed while . . . committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit . . . aggravated robbery." That offense was punishable by death in Ohio. See Ohio Rev.Code Ann. §§ 2929.03, 2929.04 (1975). She was also charged with aggravated robbery. The State's case against her depended largely upon the testimony of a coparticipant, one Al Parker, who gave the following account of her participation in the robbery and murder.

Lockett became acquainted with Parker and Nathan Earl Dew while she and a friend, Joanne Baxter, were in New Jersey. Parker and Dew then accompanied Lockett, Baxter, and Lockett's brother back to Akron, Ohio, Lockett's home- town. After they arrived in Akron, Parker and Dew needed money for the trip back to New Jersey. Dew suggested that he pawn his ring. Lockett overheard his suggestion, but felt that the ring was too beautiful to pawn, and suggested instead that they could get some money by robbing a grocery store and a furniture store in the area. She warned that the grocery store's operator was a "big guy" who carried a "45" and that they would have "to get him real quick." She also volunteered to get a gun from her father's basement to aid in carrying out the robberies, but by that time, the two stores had closed and it was too late to proceed with the plan to rob them.

Someone, apparently Lockett's brother, suggested a plan for robbing a pawnshop. He and Dew would enter the shop and pretend to pawn a ring. Next Parker, who had some bullets, would enter the shop, ask to see a gun, load it, and use it to rob the shop. No one planned to kill the pawnshop operator in the course of the robbery. Because she knew the owner, Lockett was not to be among those entering the pawnshop, though she did guide the others to the shop that night.

The next day Parker, Dew, Lockett, and her brother gathered at Baxter's apartment. Lockett's brother asked if they were "still going to do it," and everyone, including Lockett, agreed to proceed. The four then drove by the pawnshop several times and parked the car. Lockett's brother and Dew entered the shop. Parker then left the car and told Lockett to start it again in two minutes. The robbery proceeded according to plan until the pawnbroker grabbed the gun when Parker announced the "stickup."...

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