McGautha v. California

Citation402 U.S. 183,28 L.Ed.2d 711,91 S.Ct. 1454
Decision Date03 May 1971
Docket NumberNo. 203.,203.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

402 U.S. 183
28 L.Ed.2d 711
91 S.Ct. 1454


No. 203.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued November 9, 1970
May 3, 1971*

HARLAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and STEWART, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACK, J., filed a separate opinion, post, p. 225. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in No. 204, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 226. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 248.

Herman F. Selvin, by appointment of the Court, 400 U. S. 885, argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner in No. 203. John J. Callahan, by appointment of the Court, 399 U. S. 924, argued the cause for petitioner in No. 204. With him on the brief were Dan H. McCullough, William T. Burgess, William D. Driscoll, and Gerald S. Lubitsky.

Ronald M. George, Deputy Attorney General of California, argued the cause for respondent in No. 203. With him on the brief were Thomas C. Lynch, Attorney General, and William E. James, Assistant Attorney General. Melvin L. Resnick argued the cause for respondent in No. 204. With him on the brief were Harry Friberg and Alice L. Robie Resnick.

Solicitor General Griswold argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance in both cases. With him on the brief was Philip A. Lacovara.

Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Michael Meltsner, and Anthony G. Amsterdam filed a brief for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al. as amici curiae in both cases. Luke McKissack filed a brief as amicus curiae in No. 203. Briefs of amici curiae in No. 204 were filed by Richard F. Stevens for the Attor-

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ney General of Ohio; by Elmer Gertz and Willard J. Lassers for the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois Division, et al.; and by Messrs. Lassers, Gertz, Alex Elson, and Marvin Braiterman for the American Friends Service Committee et al.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners McGautha and Crampton were convicted of murder in the first degree in the courts of California and Ohio respectively and sentenced to death pursuant to the statutes of those States. In each case the decision whether the defendant should live or die was left to the absolute discretion of the jury. In McGautha's case the jury, in accordance with California law, determined punishment in a separate proceeding following the trial on the issue of guilt. In Crampton's case, in accordance with Ohio law, the jury determined guilt and punishment after a single trial and in a single verdict. We granted certiorari in the McGautha case limited to the question whether petitioner's constitutional rights were infringed by permitting the jury to impose the death penalty without any governing standards. 398 U. S. 936 (1970). We granted certiorari in the Crampton case limited to that same question and to the further question whether the jury's imposition of the death sentence in the same proceeding and verdict as determined the issue of guilt was constitutionally permissible. Ibid.1 For the reasons

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that follow, we find no constitutional infirmity in the conviction of either petitioner, and we affirm in both cases.


It will put the constitutional issues in clearer focus to begin by setting out the course which each trial took.

A. McGautha's Guilt Trial

McGautha and his codefendant Wilkinson were charged with committing two armed robberies and a murder on February 14, 1967.2 In accordance with California procedure in capital cases, the trial was in two stages, a guilt stage and a punishment stage.3 At the guilt trial the

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evidence tended to show that the defendants, armed with pistols, entered the market of Mrs. Pon Lock early in the afternoon of the murder. While Wilkinson kept a customer under guard, McGautha trained his gun on Mrs. Lock and took almost $300. Roughly three hours later, McGautha and Wilkinson held up another store, this one owned by Mrs. Benjamin Smetana and operated by her with her husband's assistance. While one defendant forcibly restrained a customer, the other struck Mrs. Smetana on the head. A shot was fired, fatally wounding Mr. Smetana. Wilkinson's former girl friend testified that shortly after the robbery McGautha told her he had shot a man and showed her an empty cartridge in the cylinder of his gun. Other evidence at the guilt stage was inconclusive on the issue as to who fired the fatal shot. The jury found both defendants guilty of two counts of armed robbery and one count of first-degree murder as charged.

B. McGautha's Penalty Trial

At the penalty trial, which took place on the following day but before the same jury, the State waived its opening, presented evidence of McGautha's prior felony convictions and sentences, see n. 2, supra, and then rested. Wilkinson testified in his own behalf, relating his unhappy childhood in Mississippi as the son of a white

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father and a Negro mother, his honorable discharge from the Army on the score of his low intelligence, his regular attendance at church, and his good record for holding jobs and supporting his mother and siblings up to the time he was shot in the back in an unprovoked assault by a street gang. Thereafter, he testified, he had difficulty obtaining or holding employment. About a year later he fell in with McGautha and his companions, and when they found themselves short of funds, one of the group suggested that they "knock over somebody." This was the first time, Wilkinson said, that he had ever had any thoughts of committing a robbery. He admitted participating in the two robberies but said he had not known that the stores were to be held up until McGautha drew his gun. He testified that it had been McGautha who struck Mrs. Smetana and shot Mr. Smetana.

Wilkinson called several witnesses in his behalf. An undercover narcotics agent testified that he had seen the murder weapon in McGautha's possession and had seen McGautha demonstrating his quick draw. A minister with whom Wilkinson had boarded testified to Wilkinson's church attendance and good reputation. He also stated that before trial Wilkinson had expressed his horror at what had happened and requested the minister's prayers on his behalf. A former fellow employee testified that Wilkinson had a good reputation and was honest and peaceable.

McGautha also testified in his own behalf at the penalty hearing. He admitted that the murder weapon was his, but testified that he and Wilkinson had traded guns, and that it was Wilkinson who had struck Mrs. Smetana and killed her husband. McGautha testified that he came from a broken home and that he had been wounded during World War II. He related his employment record, medical condition, and remorse. He admitted his criminal record, see n. 2, supra, but testified that he had

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been a mere accomplice in two of those robberies and that his prior conviction for murder had resulted from a slaying in self-defense. McGautha also admitted to a 1964 guilty plea to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. He called no witnesses in his behalf.

The jury was instructed in the following language:

"in this part of the trial the law does not forbid you from being influenced by pity for the defendants and you may be governed by mere sentiment and sympathy for the defendants in arriving at a proper penalty in this case; however, the law does forbid you from being governed by mere conjecture, prejudice, public opinion or public feeling.
"The defendants in this case have been found guilty of the offense of murder in the first degree, and it is now your duty to determine which of the penalties provided by law should be imposed on each defendant for that offense. Now, in arriving at this determination you should consider all of the evidence received here in court presented by the People and defendants throughout the trial before this jury. You may also consider all of the evidence of the circumstances surrounding the crime, of each defendant's background and history, and of the facts in aggravation or mitigation of the penalty which have been received here in court. However, it is not essential to your decision that you find mitigating circumstances on the one hand or evidence in aggravation of the offense on the other hand.
. . . . .
". . . Notwithstanding facts, if any, proved in mitigation or aggravation, in determining which punishment shall be inflicted, you are entirely free to act according to your own judgment, conscience,

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and absolute discretion. That verdict must express the individual opinion of each juror.
"Now, beyond prescribing the two alternative penalties, the law itself provides no standard for the guidance of the jury in the selection of the penalty, but, rather, commits the whole matter of determining which of the two penalties shall be fixed to the judgment, conscience, and absolute discretion of the jury. In the determination of that matter, if the jury does agree, it must be unanimous as to which of the two penalties is imposed." App. 221-223.4

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Deliberations began in the early afternoon of August 24, 1967. In response to jury requests the testimony of Mrs. Smetana and of three other witnesses was reread. Late in the afternoon of August 25 the jury returned verdicts fixing Wilkinson's punishment at life imprisonment and McGautha's punishment at death.

The trial judge ordered a probation report on McGautha. Having received it, he overruled McGautha's motions for a new trial or for a modification of the penalty verdict, and pronounced the death sentence.5 McGautha's conviction was unanimously affirmed by the California Supreme Court. 70 Cal. 2d 770, 452 P. 2d 650 (1969). His contention that standardless jury sentencing is unconstitutional was rejected on the authority of an earlier case, In re Anderson, 69 Cal. 2d 613, 447 P. 2d 117 (1968), in which that court had divided narrowly on the issue.

C. Crampton's Trial

Petitioner Crampton was...

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