Martinez Chavez v. State, 1085S426

Decision Date01 March 1989
Docket NumberNo. 1085S426,1085S426
Citation534 N.E.2d 731
PartiesEladio MARTINEZ CHAVEZ, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Susan K. Carpenter, Public Defender, M.E. Tuke, Hector L. Flores, Deputy Public Defenders, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Joseph N. Stevenson, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

The principal question in this case is whether the trial court was justified in overriding the jury's recommendation against the death penalty.

Appellant Eladio Martinez Chavez and Reynaldo Rondon were tried before a jury and found guilty of murder, Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-1-1(1) (Burns 1985 Repl.), and felony murder, Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-1-1(2) (Burns 1985 Repl.). After the sentencing hearing, the jury recommended the death penalty for Rondon but not for Martinez Chavez. The trial court noted the jury's recommendation against the death penalty for Martinez Chavez but sentenced him to death anyway.

The evidence at trial established that Rondon's girlfriend, Eva Copeland, overheard a discussion in Spanish between Rondon and Martinez Chavez. She understood enough Spanish to surmise that the two men were planning to rob Francisco Alarcon. Copeland asked Rondon in English what he would do if Alarcon caught him. Rondon said he would kill him. Martinez Chavez said Rondon was "loco," meaning crazy.

Rondon arranged to have Everette Amiotte drive himself and Martinez Chavez to a place near Alarcon's house on the evening of October 10, 1984. Amiotte testified that he stayed in the car while Rondon and Martinez Chavez walked up the street and around the corner. About twenty minutes later Martinez Chavez returned alone. Amiotte said that Martinez Chavez looked nervous and smelled "like death." Martinez Chavez entered the car saying something in Spanish which Amiotte took to mean "stupid Reynaldo."

Amiotte drove away with Martinez Chavez and stopped at a gas station to buy cigarettes. While inside, Martinez Chavez spotted Rondon walking down the street. Rondon was carrying a windbreaker wrapped around a double-handled shopping bag. Rondon told the two men that the car he had been driving broke down and he led them to its location. The car was a green Pontiac which the State established belonged to Alarcon.

The next morning, Copeland saw Rondon riding his bike. She called to him and asked him where he had been the night before. Rondon became nervous. He handed two knives to her. She put them in her purse and later hid them in the trunk of her car.

That same day, the victim's next door neighbor noticed a number of suspicious circumstances, including the absence of Alarcon's car, and became concerned. When the neighbor tapped on the window of Alarcon's house and no one responded, he called the police. The police arrived and entered the house. In the living room, they saw that four pillows at one end of the couch had blood on them and that pieces from a brown glass bottle lay between the couch and the coffee table. The police observed a trail of blood leading to the bathroom. There they found the body of Alarcon; he had been stabbed fifteen times.

A search of Rondon's residence turned up a dark sock with blood-stained money in it and a shopping bag with more money and some jewelry. The bag also contained a bracelet inscribed with the name Frances Alarcon and military dog tags for Francisco Alarcon. Police also found the key to Alarcon's safety deposit box.

I. Overriding a Jury Recommendation

An Indiana trial court need not accept the jury's recommendation either for or against the death penalty. The capital sentencing statute provides, "The court is not bound by the jury's recommendation." Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9 (Burns 1985 Repl.). The question in this case is the standard which must be met to justify overriding a jury's recommendation against death.

Our review of this question proceeds from the Indiana Constitution, which provides: "The Supreme Court shall have, in all appeals of criminal cases, the power to review and revise the sentence imposed." Ind.Const. Art. 7, Sec. 4. In particular, this Court must review the imposition of a sentence of death to determine if the penalty is appropriate to the offender and his crime. Van Cleave v. State (1987), Ind., 517 N.E.2d 356, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 109 S.Ct. 819, 102 L.Ed.2d 808 (1989). Although the Indiana Rules for Appellate Review of Sentences say that a reviewing court will not revise a sentence unless no reasonable person could find such sentence appropriate, in a capital case, those rules "stand more as guideposts for our appellate review than as immovable pillars supporting a sentence decision." Spranger v. State (1986), Ind., 498 N.E.2d 931, 947 n. 2, cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1033, 107 S.Ct. 1965, 95 L.Ed.2d 536 (1987).

This Court has on one occasion affirmed a trial court's decision to override the jury's recommendation and impose the death penalty. Schiro v. State (1983), Ind., 451 N.E.2d 1047, cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1003, 104 S.Ct. 510, 78 L.Ed.2d 699. In Schiro, the trial court had reason to believe that the jury had been tricked into recommending against the death penalty. The defendant had tried to delude the jurors into thinking he was mentally unstable by rocking back and forth in their presence. 451 N.E.2d at 1059. 1 In this case, there is no evidence that Martinez Chavez misled the jury through his actions at trial or sentencing. Thus, Schiro does not dispose of this case.

Thirty of the thirty-seven states that provide for the death penalty give the life-or-death decision solely to the jury. Of the remaining seven states only Florida, Alabama and Indiana allow a judge to override a jury's recommendation against death. Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 463 & n. 9, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 3164 & n. 9, 82 L.Ed.2d 340, 354 & n. 9 (1984). The Florida Supreme Court has set the following standard:

In order to sustain a sentence of death following a jury recommendation of life, the facts suggesting a sentence of death should be so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.

Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (Fla.1975). The Florida high court has not hesitated to reverse a trial court if it derogates the jury's role. See, e.g., Richardson v. State, 437 So.2d 1091 (Fla.1983); Cannady v. State, 427 So.2d 723 (Fla.1983). It has also affirmed a trial court's decision to override the jury's recommendation against death. E.g., Spaziano v. State, 433 So.2d 508 (Fla.1983).

The United States Supreme Court has upheld the Florida Supreme Court's decision to impose the death penalty despite the jury's recommendation against it. Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). The Court noted that the Florida Supreme Court applied a rigorous standard of review in such cases based upon Tedder and that that standard afforded capital defendants a "significant safeguard." 468 U.S. at 465, 104 S.Ct. at 3165, 82 L.Ed.2d at 356. On another occasion, Justice Rehnquist termed the Tedder standard a "crucial protection" of Florida's capital punishment scheme. Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 295, 97 S.Ct. 2290, 2299, 53 L.Ed.2d 344, 357-358 (1977). Today we adopt a similar standard. 2

The role of juries in Indiana's death penalty proceedings is a critical one. While the General Assembly has authorized a trial court to override a jury's recommendation, consideration of the jury's recommendation cannot amount to a simple entry noting its existence. Williams v. State (1988), Ind., 525 N.E.2d 1238. This Court regards the recommendation of the jury as "a very valuable contribution to the process, in that it comes from a group representative of the defendant's peers, who are likely to reflect, collectively, the standards of the community." Brewer v. State (1981), 275 Ind. 338, 373, 417 N.E.2d 889, 909, cert. denied, 458 U.S. 1122, 102 S.Ct. 3510, 73 L.Ed.2d 1384 (1982). The United States Supreme Court has recognized, "the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of the community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death." Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 184, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2930, 49 L.Ed.2d 859, 880-881 (1976). Although the trial court is the final arbiter of the sentence, it is bound to make its decision on the same standards used by the jury, Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9(e), and it should heed the jury's recommendation. The task today is to develop a standard appropriate to the separate roles of judge and jury.

The United States Supreme Court has declared that the discretion of the sentencing authority, whether judge or jury, must be limited and reviewable. Spaziano, 468 U.S. at 462, 104 S.Ct. at 3163, 82 L.Ed.2d at 354. Meaningful review by the state supreme court is an important safeguard to assure that imposition of the death penalty is not arbitrary or discriminatory, 3 regardless of whether the judge and the jury agree that death is appropriate or the judge overrides the jury's recommendation of life. Id. at 466, 104 S.Ct. at 3165, 82 L.Ed.2d at 356.

In order to sentence a defendant to death after the jury has recommended against death, the facts justifying a death sentence should be so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could disagree that death was appropriate in light of the offender and his crime. A trial court cannot override the jury's recommendation unless the facts meet this standard.

None of the twelve jurors in this case had conscientious objections to the death penalty that would deter them from recommending it. See Ind.Code Sec. 35-37-1-5 (Burns 1985 Repl.). The jury showed it was capable of recommending death because it found a death sentence appropriate for Rondon, the codefendant. The trial court made careful findings...

To continue reading

Request your trial
83 cases
  • Fleenor v. Farley
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • February 2, 1998
    ...sentencing, especially in cases in which trial judges have made decisions contrary to the jury recommendations. In Martinez Chavez v. State, 534 N.E.2d 731, 735 (Ind.1989), the court reversed the trial judge's sentence of death imposed after the jury recommended against it. The court stated......
  • Schiro v. Clark
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • December 26, 1990
    ...penalty must find by clear and convincing evidence reasons for declining to follow the jury's recommendation. See Martinez Chavez v. State, 534 N.E.2d 731 (Ind.1989). An argument is made along the way that Judge Rosen considered the Indiana statute to mandate rather than allow the death pen......
  • Burris v. Parke
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • December 26, 1996
    ...was found by the original trial jury. At that stage, it was not necessary that specific intent to kill be proved. Martinez Chavez v. State (1989), Ind., 534 N.E.2d 731, reh'g denied, 539 N.E.2d 4. The aggravating circumstance concerning appellant's intent throughout the entire episode was a......
  • Ervin v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
    • January 13, 1999
    ...418 (1975)(malice murder and felony murder) and Hayes v. State, 265 Ga. 1, 453 S.E.2d 11, 13 (1995)(same); Indiana, Martinez Chavez v. State, 534 N.E.2d 731, 739 (Ind.1989)(murder and felony murder) and Kennedy v. State, 674 N.E.2d 966, 967 (Ind.1996)(reaffirming Martinez Chavez ); Illinois......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT