Spaziano v. Florida, No. 83-5596

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKMUN
Citation82 L.Ed.2d 340,468 U.S. 447,104 S.Ct. 3154
PartiesJoseph Robert SPAZIANO, Petitioner v. FLORIDA
Docket NumberNo. 83-5596
Decision Date02 July 1984

468 U.S. 447
104 S.Ct. 3154
82 L.Ed.2d 340
Joseph Robert SPAZIANO, Petitioner

v.

FLORIDA.

No. 83-5596.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 17, 1984.
Decided July 2, 1984.
Syllabus

At petitioner's trial for first-degree murder, the Florida trial court informed him that it would instruct the jury on lesser included, noncapital offenses, if he would waive the statute of limitations, which had expired as to those offenses. Petitioner refused to waive the statute, and the jury was instructed solely on capital murder. After the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder, a sentencing hearing was conducted before the same jury, a majority of which recommended life imprisonment. Under Florida law, the jury's sentencing recommendation in a capital case is only advisory, and the trial court must conduct its own weighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances to determine the proper sentence. If a death sentence is imposed, specified written findings are required. In this case, the trial court imposed the death sentence and entered its findings in support thereof. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, rejecting petitioner's contention that Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392—which held that a statute prohibiting lesser included offense instructions in capital cases was unconstitutional—required reversal because of the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses absent a waiver of the statute of limitations on those offenses. However, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the death sentence because of the trial judge's consideration of a confidential portion of the presentence investigation report, neither party having received a copy of the confidential portion. On remand, the trial court again imposed the death penalty after a hearing to allow petitioner to present evidence in response to a new presentence investigation report. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, holding, inter alia, that there was no constitutional infirmity in the Florida procedure whereby the judge is allowed to override the jury's recommendation of life imprisonment.

Held:

1. On the facts, it was not error for the trial judge to refuse to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses. Beck v. Alabama, supra, recognized the risk of an unwarranted conviction that is created when the jury is deprived of the "third option" of convicting the defendant of a lesser included offense. Petitioner's general premise that a criminal defendant may not be required to waive a substantive right—here the right to a statute of limitations—as a condition for receiving an otherwise constitu-

Page 448

tionally fair trial does not apply to petitioner's situation. In Beck, the element found to be essential to a fair trial was not simply a lesser included offense instruction in the abstract, but the enhanced rationality and reliability the existence of the instruction introduced into the jury's deliberations. Where no lesser included offense exists, a lesser included offense instruction detracts from, rather than enhances, the rationality of the process. The defendant has the option of waiving the expired statute of limitations on lesser included offenses in order to have the jury instructed on those offenses, or of asserting the statute of limitations. Pp. 454-457.

2. There is no constitutional requirement that a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment in a capital case be final so as to preclude the trial judge from overriding the jury's recommendation and imposing the death sentence. The fundamental issue in a capital sentencing proceeding is the determination of the appropriate punishment to be imposed on an individual, and the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a right to a jury determination of that issue. Nothing in the safeguards against arbitrary and discriminatory application of the death penalty necessitated by the qualitative difference of the penalty requires that the sentence be imposed by a jury. And the purposes of the death penalty are not frustrated by, or inconsistent with, a scheme in which imposition of the penalty is determined by a judge. The fact that the majority of jurisdictions with capital sentencing statutes give the life-or-death decision to the jury does not establish that contemporary standards of fairness and decency are offended by the jury override. The Eighth Amendment is not violated every time a State reaches a conclusion different from a majority of its sisters over how best to administer its criminal laws. Pp. 457-465.

3. The determination that there is no constitutional imperative that a jury have the responsibility of deciding whether the death penalty should be imposed also disposes of petitioner's double jeopardy challenge to the jury-override procedure. If the judge is vested with sole responsibility for imposing the penalty, the jury's advice does not become a judgment simply because it comes from the jury. P. 465.

4. Application of the Florida standards allowing a trial court to override a jury's recommendation of a life sentence does not violate the constitutional requirement of reliability in capital sentencing. There is no indication that the application of the jury-override procedure has resulted in arbitrary or discriminatory application of the death penalty, either in general or in this particular case. The trial judge here based his decision on the presence of two statutory aggravating circumstances and the absence of any mitigating circumstances. The Florida Supreme Court reviewed petitioner's sentence and concluded that the death pen-

Page 449

alty was properly imposed under state law. Whether or not "reasonable people" could differ over the result, there is nothing irrational or arbitrary about the imposition of petitioner's death penalty. Pp. 465-467.

433 So.2d 508 (Fla.1983), affirmed.

Craig S. Barnard, Chief Asst. Public Defender, West Palm Beach, Fla., for petitioner.

Mark C. Menser, Asst. Atty. Gen., Daytona Beach, Fla., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions regarding the administration of Florida's capital sentencing statute. In particular, petitioner challenges the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses of capital murder. He also challenges the court's imposition of a sentence of death when the jury had recommended life. We conclude that on the facts of this case, it was not error for the trial judge to refuse to give the lesser included offense instruction and that there is no constitutional requirement that the jury's recommendation of life be final. We also reject petitioner's argument that, as applied in this case, the Florida standards for overriding a jury's sentencing recommendation are so broad and vague as to violate the constitutional requirement of reliability in capital sentencing.

Page 450

I

Petitioner Joseph Robert Spaziano was indicted and tried for first-degree murder. The indictment was brought two years and one month after the alleged offense. Under the Florida statute of limitations in effect at the time of the alleged offense, August 1973, the limitations period for noncapital offenses was two years. Fla.Stat.§ 932.465(2) (1973).1 There was no statute of limitations for capital offenses, such as first-degree murder. § 932.465(1).

The primary evidence against petitioner was given by a witness who testified that petitioner had taken him to a garbage dump in Seminole County, Fla., where petitioner had pointed out the remains of two women he claimed to have tortured and murdered. Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the witness' recall and perception because of a substantial drug habit. The witness testified that he had not taken drugs on the day of the visit to the garbage dump, and he had been able to direct the police to the site. See Spaziano v. State, 393 So.2d 1119, 1120 (Fla.1981).

At the close of the evidence, the trial court informed petitioner that it would instruct the jury on the lesser included, noncapital offenses of attempted first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter, if petitioner would waive the statute of limitations as to those offenses. Tr. 751-755. Petitioner refused to waive the statute. The court accordingly instructed the jury solely on capital murder.

The jury deliberated somewhat more than six hours. It reported itself deadlocked, and the trial court gave an additional instruction, encouraging the jurors to resolve their dif-

Page 451

ferences and come to a common conclusion.2 Shortly thereafter, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder.

The trial court then convened a sentencing hearing before the same jury. Arguments were heard from both sides and evidence offered on aggravating and mitigating circumstances. A majority of the jury recommended life imprisonment.3 In Florida, the jury's sentencing recommendation in a capital case is only advisory. The trial court is to conduct its own weighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and, "[n]otwithstanding the recommendation of a majority of the jury," is to enter a sentence of life imprisonment or death; in the latter case, specified written findings are required. Fla.Stat. § 921.141(3) (1983).4 The trial court

Page 452

concluded that, "notwithstanding the recommendation of the jury, . . . sufficient aggravating circumstances existed to justify and authorize a death sentence[;] . . . the mitigating circumstances were insufficient to outweigh such aggravating circumstances and . . . a sentence of death should be imposed in this case." App. 14. The two aggravating circumstances found by the court were that the homicide was especially heinous and atrocious and that the defendant had been convicted previously of felonies involving the use or threat of violence to the person. The trial court found no...

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773 practice notes
  • Williams v. Bagley, No. 02-3461.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 13, 2004
    ...Williams has not cited any authority that compels reconsideration of this conclusion. The Supreme Court in Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984), merely stated that a state "must administer [the death penalty] in a way that can rationally distinguish ......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...innocent of any wrongdoing. 447 U.S., at 637, 100 S.Ct. 2382 (emphasis added); Id., at 638, 100 S.Ct. 2382; see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 455, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984) (explaining that the "goal of the Beck rule" is "to eliminate the distortion of t......
  • United States v. Johnson, No. CR 01–3046–MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • March 5, 2013
    ...in death penalty cases. Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 410–11, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986); see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 456, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). Finally, even if relevant and reliable, proposed aggravating factors may be excluded if their prob......
  • Kindler v. Horn, No. CIV.A.99-CV-0161.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 24, 2003
    ...those for whom it is not. Parker v. Dugger, 498 U.S. 308, 321, 111 S.Ct. 731, 739, 112 L.Ed.2d 812 (1991), quoting Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 460, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 3162, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). This is essentially the purpose behind the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
766 cases
  • Williams v. Bagley, No. 02-3461.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 13, 2004
    ...factors"). Williams has not cited any authority that compels reconsideration of this conclusion. The Supreme Court in Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984), merely stated that a state "must administer [the death penalty] in a way that can rationally distin......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...innocent of any wrongdoing. 447 U.S., at 637, 100 S.Ct. 2382 (emphasis added); Id., at 638, 100 S.Ct. 2382; see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 455, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984) (explaining that the "goal of the Beck rule" is "to eliminate the distortion of the factfinding ......
  • United States v. Johnson, No. CR 01–3046–MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • March 5, 2013
    ...in death penalty cases. Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 410–11, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986); see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 456, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). Finally, even if relevant and reliable, proposed aggravating factors may be excluded if their prob......
  • Kindler v. Horn, No. CIV.A.99-CV-0161.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 24, 2003
    ...those for whom it is not. Parker v. Dugger, 498 U.S. 308, 321, 111 S.Ct. 731, 739, 112 L.Ed.2d 812 (1991), quoting Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 460, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 3162, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). This is essentially the purpose behind the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circ......
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7 books & journal articles
  • Proportionality and parole.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 160 Nbr. 6, May 2012
    • May 1, 2012
    ...of power established in constitutional criminal procedure). (166) Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 519 & n.15 (1968). (167) 468 U.S. 447, 487 (1984) (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in (168) Id. at 483; see also Appleman, supra note 6, at 1311-21 (reviewing the link......
  • Cruel and Unusual Non-Capital Punishments
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-4, October 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    ...DNA evidence that the convictions of numerous persons on death row are “unreliable” is especially alarming); Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 460 n.7 (1984) (“[T]he death sentence is unique in its severity and in its irrevocability . . . .”), overruled on other grounds by Hurst v. Florida......
  • Institutionalizing the Culture of Control
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 24-4, December 2014
    • December 1, 2014
    ...v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472 (2008)Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. 527 (1992)South Carolina v. Gathers, 490 U.S. 805 (1989)Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447 (1984)Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989)Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318 (1994)Stewart v. LaGrand, 526 U.S. 115 (1999)Stewart v.......
  • CRIMINAL LAW: CAPITAL FELONY MERGER.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 111 Nbr. 3, June 2021
    • June 22, 2021
    ...DNA evidence that the convictions of numerous persons on death row are unreliable is especially alarming); Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 460 n.7 (1984) ("[T]he death sentence is unique in its severity and in its irrevocability...."); Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305 (1976) ......
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