Maynard v. Cartwright, No. 87-519

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL
Citation100 L.Ed.2d 372,108 S.Ct. 1853,486 U.S. 356
Docket NumberNo. 87-519
Decision Date06 June 1988
PartiesGary D. MAYNARD, Warden, et al., Petitioners, v. William T. CARTWRIGHT

486 U.S. 356
108 S.Ct. 1853
100 L.Ed.2d 372
Gary D. MAYNARD, Warden, et al., Petitioners,

v.

William T. CARTWRIGHT.

No. 87-519.
Argued April 19, 1988.
Decided June 6, 1988.
Syllabus

Respondent, a disgruntled ex-employee of a married couple, entered the couple's home, shot the wife twice with a shotgun, shot and killed the husband, and then slit the wife's throat and stabbed her twice. Respondent was tried in an Oklahoma court and found guilty of the first-degree murder of the husband. The jury imposed the death penalty upon finding that two statutory aggravating circumstances, including the circumstance that the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel," had been established, and that these circumstances outweighed the mitigating evidence. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed on direct appeal, and later affirmed a denial of state collateral relief. The Federal District Court then denied respondent's habeas corpus petition, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the statutory words "heinous," "atrocious," and "cruel" do not on their face offer sufficient guidance to the jury to escape the strictures of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346. The court also ruled that the Oklahoma courts had not adopted a limiting construction that cured the infirmity, concluding that the construction utilized by the state appellate court, which simply declared that the facts of the case were so plainly "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel" that the death penalty was warranted, was itself unconstitutionally vague under the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. The court therefore enjoined the execution of the death sentence, but without prejudice to further state proceedings for redetermination of the sentence.

Held: As applied in this case, the statutory aggravating circumstance was unconstitutionally vague. Pp. 360-366.

(a) The State's contention that factual circumstances may, in themselves, plainly characterize the killing as "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel" represents an improper, Due Process Clause approach to vagueness that fails to recognize the rationale of this Court's Eighth Amendment cases. Under Furman, supra, and its progeny, the proper analysis of a vagueness claim focuses on whether the challenged aggravating circumstance adequately informs the jury as to what it must find in order to impose the death penalty, or whether it leaves the jury with unchanneled discretion to make an arbitrary and capricious decision. Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 100 S.Ct. 1759, 64 L.Ed.2d 398, which applied that analysis,

Page 357

controls this case. The language of the Oklahoma provision gave no more guidance to the jury here than did the "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman" language that was held unconstitutional in Godfrey. Moreover, Oklahoma's addition of the word "especially" no more limited the overbreadth of the aggravating factor than did the addition of "outrageously or wantonly" to the word "vile" in the language considered in Godfrey. Furthermore, the state appellate court's factual approach to construction was indistinguishable from the action of the Georgia court in Godfrey, which failed to cure the jury's unfettered discretion and to satisfy the Eighth Amendment. Pp. 360—364.

(b) The State's complaint that the Court of Appeals erroneously ruled that torture or serious physical abuse is the only constitutionally acceptable limiting construction of the aggravating circumstance is unfounded, since, although the court noted cases in which such a requirement was held to be curative, it expressly refrained from directing the State to adopt any particular construction. The contention that the death penalty should stand because the jury found another, unchallenged aggravating circumstance sufficient to sustain the sentence is also unpersuasive, since, when this case was decided, Oklahoma had no procedure for attempting to save a death penalty when one of several aggravating circumstances found by the jury was held to be invalid or unsupported by evidence, but simply vacated the death sentence and automatically imposed a life-imprisonment sentence. The significance for this case of the state appellate court's decisions, which were issued after the Court of Appeals' decision below, to adopt a torture-or-serious-physical-abuse limiting construction of the aggravating circumstance, and to no longer automatically set aside a death penalty where one of several aggravating circumstances is invalid or inapplicable, must be decided in the first instance by the Oklahoma courts in any further proceedings for redetermination of the appropriate sentence. Pp. 364-366.

822 F.2d 1477 (CA10 1987), affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 366.

Susan S. Dickerson, Oklahoma City, Okl., for petitioners.

Page 358

Mandy Welch, Norman, Okl., for respondent.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

On May 4, 1982, after eating their evening meal in their Muskogee County, Oklahoma, home, Hugh and Charma Riddle watched television in their living room. At some point, Mrs. Riddle left the living room and was proceeding towards the bathroom when she encountered respondent Cartwright standing in the hall holding a shotgun. She struggled for the gun and was shot twice in the legs. The man, whom she recognized as a disgruntled ex-employee, then proceeded to the living room where he shot and killed Hugh Riddle. Mrs. Riddle dragged herself down the hall to a bedroom where she tried to use a telephone. Respondent, however, entered the bedroom, slit Mrs. Riddle's throat, stabbed her twice with a hunting knife the Riddles had given him for Christmas, and then left the house. Mrs. Riddle survived and called the police. Respondent was arrested two days later and charged with first-degree murder.

Respondent was tried and found guilty as charged. The State, relying on three statutory aggravating circumstances, sought the death penalty. The jury found two of them to have been established: first, the defendant "knowingly cre-

Page 359

ated a great risk of death to more than one person"; second, the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." Okla.Stat., Tit. 21, §§ 701.12(2) and (4) (1981). Finding that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating evidence, the jury imposed the death penalty. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed on direct appeal, Cartwright v. State, 695 P.2d 548, cert. denied, 473 U.S. 911, 105 S.Ct. 3538, 87 L.Ed.2d 661 (1985), and later affirmed a denial of state collateral relief. Cartwright v. State, 708 P.2d 592 (1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1073, 106 S.Ct. 837, 88 L.Ed.2d 808 (1986). Respondent then sought federal habeas corpus on several grounds. The District Court rejected each of them, including the claim that the death sentence was invalid because it rested wholly or in part on an unconstitutional aggravating circumstance, namely, the unconstitutionally vague and overbroad aggravating circumstance that the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, 802 F.2d 1203 (1986), but rehearing en banc was granted limited to the claim concerning the challenged aggravating circumstance.

The en banc court recognized that the jury had found two aggravating circumstances, one of them being unchallenged. But it noted that in cases where a death sentence rested in part on an invalid aggravating circumstance, the Oklahoma courts did not reweigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in an effort to save the death penalty; rather, the death sentence was vacated and a life-imprisonment sentence automatically imposed. Oklahoma had "no provision for curing on appeal a sentencer's consideration of an invalid aggravating circumstance." 822 F.2d 1477, 1482 (1987). It was therefore necessary to consider the vagueness challenge to one of the aggravating circumstances. The court proceeded to do so and unanimously sustained the challenge. It stated that the words...

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1125 practice notes
  • Barnes v. Thompson, Nos. 94-4001
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 10, 1995
    ...to broaden the scope of a state's chosen definition of an aggravating factor in its sentencing scheme. Cf. Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 364-65, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 1859-60, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 (1988) (refraining from directing state as to which factors may be aggravating factors for imposit......
  • State v. Hebert, No. 88,084
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • January 16, 2004
    ..."a principled means . . . to distinguish those that received the death penalty and those that did not," citing Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 362, 100 L. Ed. 2d 372, 108 S. Ct. 1853 (1988). He also argues that the PIK instruction thwarts the capital defendant's right to have the jury ......
  • Douglas v. Workman, No. 01-6094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • March 26, 2009
    ...a heightened scrutiny in reviewing such a decision, see Cartwright v. Maynard, 822 F.2d 1477, 1483 (10th Cir.1987) (reh'g en banc), aff'd, 486 U.S. 356, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 (1988). For these reasons, we apply a heightened concern for fairness in this case, where the state is pre......
  • U.S. v. Davis, Nos. 92-10592
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 29, 1994
    ...implicate any First Amendment interest, he must show that the statute is vague as it is applied in his case. See Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 361, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 1857-58, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 We rejected an argument identical to Williams' in United States v. Shaw, 936 F.2d 412 (9th Cir.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1123 cases
  • Barnes v. Thompson, Nos. 94-4001
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 10, 1995
    ...to broaden the scope of a state's chosen definition of an aggravating factor in its sentencing scheme. Cf. Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 364-65, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 1859-60, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 (1988) (refraining from directing state as to which factors may be aggravating factors for imposit......
  • State v. Hebert, No. 88,084
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • January 16, 2004
    ..."a principled means . . . to distinguish those that received the death penalty and those that did not," citing Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 362, 100 L. Ed. 2d 372, 108 S. Ct. 1853 (1988). He also argues that the PIK instruction thwarts the capital defendant's right to have the jury ......
  • Douglas v. Workman, No. 01-6094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • March 26, 2009
    ...a heightened scrutiny in reviewing such a decision, see Cartwright v. Maynard, 822 F.2d 1477, 1483 (10th Cir.1987) (reh'g en banc), aff'd, 486 U.S. 356, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 (1988). For these reasons, we apply a heightened concern for fairness in this case, where the state is pre......
  • U.S. v. Davis, Nos. 92-10592
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 29, 1994
    ...implicate any First Amendment interest, he must show that the statute is vague as it is applied in his case. See Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 361, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 1857-58, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 We rejected an argument identical to Williams' in United States v. Shaw, 936 F.2d 412 (9th Cir.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • HEALTH CARE FRAUD
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...of safe harbor provision was unreasonable and therefore does not demonstrate vagueness of provision). 87. See Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 361 (1988) (stating any vagueness challenge made outside of First Amendment must be applied only to facts of that case, not as a challenge to th......
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Patterson, 130 S. Ct. 2788 (2010)Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422 (1983)Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262 (1970)Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356 (1988)McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987)McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467 (1991)McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971)McKoy v. North......

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