U.S. v. Jones

Decision Date05 January 1998
Docket Number96-10448,Nos. 96-10113,s. 96-10113
Citation132 F.3d 232
Parties, 48 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 699 UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Louis JONES, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Delonia Anita Watson, Christopher Allen Curtis, Asst. U.S. Atty., Dallas, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Timothy William Crooks, Fort Worth, TX, Timothy W. Floyd, Texas Tech University, School of Law, Lubbock, TX, for Jones.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before POLITZ, Chief Judge, and BENAVIDES and PARKER, Circuit Judges.

ROBERT M. PARKER, Circuit Judge:

The defendant, Louis Jones, appeals from a conviction of kidnapping with death resulting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201. After a post-conviction sentencing hearing, the jury recommended the death penalty. The defendant challenges the sentence of death imposed by the court pursuant to the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 ("FDPA"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-97. After considering all the issues raised by the defendant on appeal, we affirm both the conviction and the sentence of death.

I. Background

On February 18, 1995, Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride was abducted at gunpoint from Goodfellow Air Force Base. During the abduction, Pvt. Michael Peacock was assaulted by McBride's attacker and severely injured while attempting to aid McBride. The base launched an intense investigation into the abduction of McBride.

On March 1, 1995, Sgt. Sandra Lane informed investigators of the Office of the Air Force Special Investigations ("OSI"), who were investigating the abduction of Pvt. McBride, that her ex-husband, Louis Jones, had attacked her on February 16, 1995, two days before McBride's disappearance. After convincing Lane to file a complaint, the OSI investigators summoned San Angelo Police who took a sworn statement from Lane. An arrest warrant was issued for Jones based on the statement made by Lane. Jones was arrested later that evening.

While in state custody for the abduction and sexual assault of Sandra Lane, investigators from the OSI questioned Jones as a possible suspect in the abduction of Pvt. McBride. The OSI investigators advised Jones of his Miranda rights, but Jones indicated that he did not want an attorney and that he was willing to answer questions. In response to questioning by OSI investigators, Jones gave a written statement admitting to the abduction and murder of McBride. In his statement, Jones admitted to taking McBride back to his apartment, tying her up, and placing her in the closet. Jones stated that he then drove McBride to a remote location where he repeatedly struck her over the head with a tire iron until she was dead. Although Jones could not give investigators directions to where the body was located, he indicated that he could show them. Subsequently, Jones lead law enforcement officials to a bridge located twenty miles outside San Angelo under which the body of Tracie McBride was discovered. An autopsy revealed that McBride died due to blunt force trauma to the head. The autopsy also revealed evidence of sexual assault.

Louis Jones was indicted in an instrument that charged him with kidnapping McBride with her death resulting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(2). The government alleged that the offense occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Conviction for kidnapping with death resulting under the Federal Kidnapping Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1201, could result in a sentence of life imprisonment or death. Exercising the discretion granted by the Federal Death Penalty Act, the United States Attorney prosecuting the case decided to seek the death penalty. As required by 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a), the prosecution filed its Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty. The jury trial commenced on October 16 1995 and resulted in a guilty verdict on October 23, 1995.

Following Jones's conviction, a separate sentencing hearing was conducted to determine whether Jones would receive a sentence of death. See 18 U.S.C. § 3593. To obtain a sentence of death, the government had the burden of proving the following: the death of McBride was an intentional killing; and the existence of one or more aggravating factors make the defendant death-eligible. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a). In the first stage of the sentencing hearing, the jury was required to determine whether Louis Jones intentionally caused the death of Tracie McBride. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a). Regarding the intent element, the jury unanimously found: (1) Jones intentionally killed McBride; and (2) Jones intentionally inflicted seriously bodily injury that resulted in the death of McBride.

The second stage of the sentencing hearing required the jury to weigh any aggravating factors against any mitigating factors to determine whether a sentence of death was appropriate. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e). The government, in its notice of intent to seek the death penalty, set forth four statutory aggravating factors 1 and three non-statutory aggravating factors. 2 In order to consider an aggravating factor, the jury must unanimously find that the government established the existence of an aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(c). The jury made unanimous findings regarding the following two statutory factors: Jones caused the death of the victim or the injury resulting in the death of the victim during the commission of the offense of kidnapping; and Jones committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, and depraved manner. The jury also made unanimous findings regarding the following two non-statutory aggravating factors: McBride's young age, her slight stature, her background, and her unfamiliarity with San Angelo, Texas; and McBride's personal characteristics and the effect of the offense on her family.

Once the jury found aggravating factors to exist, the jury next had to determine whether any mitigating factors existed. To consider a mitigating factor in jury deliberations, only one juror must find that the defendant established the existence of a mitigating factor by a preponderance of the evidence. Of the eleven mitigating factors proposed by the defendant, ten mitigating factors were found to exist by at least one or more jurors. 3 In deliberations, the jury was asked to weigh the aggravating factors against any mitigating factors to determine the propriety of a death sentence. The jury returned a unanimous verdict recommending death on November 3, 1995.

II. Constitutionality of Federal Death Penalty Act

The defendant challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-97, on the following four grounds: (1) the prosecutor's ability to define non-statutory aggravating factors amounts to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power; (2) the lack of proportionality review combined with prosecutor's unrestrained authority to allege non-statutory aggravating factors renders the statute unconstitutional; (3) the relaxed evidentiary standard at the sentencing hearing combined with the unrestrained use of non-statutory aggravating factors renders the jury's recommendation arbitrary; and (4) the death penalty is unconstitutional under all circumstances. We review constitutional challenges to federal statutes de novo. United States v. Bailey, 115 F.3d 1222, 1225 (5th Cir.1997).


First, the defendant asserts that the prosecutor's authority to define non-statutory aggravating factors results from an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The nondelegation doctrine arises from the constitutional principle of separation of powers, specifically Article 1, § 1, which provides that "all legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States." See Touby v. United States, 500 U.S. 160, 165, 111 S.Ct. 1752, 1755, 114 L.Ed.2d 219 (1991); United States v. Mistretta, 488 U.S. 361, 371, 109 S.Ct. 647, 654, 102 L.Ed.2d 714 (1989). Under the nondelegation doctrine, Congress may not constitutionally delegate its legislative power to another branch of government. See Mistretta, 488 U.S. at 372, 109 S.Ct. at 654. Congress, however, may seek assistance, within limits, from coordinate branches of government. See id. So long as Congress formulates "an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to exercise the delegated authority is directed to conform, such legislative action is not a forbidden delegation of legislative power." Id.

Jones asserts that Congress failed to formulate an "intelligible principle" in § 3592(c) when it delegated the authority to define additional aggravating factors to the Department of Justice. 4 On the contrary, the delegated authority is sufficiently circumscribed by "intelligible principles" to avoid violating the nondelegation doctrine. See United States v. Tipton, 90 F.3d 861, 895 (4th Cir.1996). The authority to define nonstatutory aggravating factors falls squarely within the Executive's broad prosecutorial discretion, much like the power to decide whether to prosecute an individual for a particular crime. See United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 463-65, 116 S.Ct. 1480, 1486, 134 L.Ed.2d 687 (1996)(noting the prosecutor's broad discretion in deciding whether to prosecute); United States v. Johnson, 91 F.3d 695, 698 (5th Cir.1996)(stating that "[a] prosecutor has broad discretion during pretrial proceedings to determine the extent of the societal interest in prosecution.") Obviously, Congress could not list every possible aggravating factor. An exclusive list of factors would bind the hands of the prosecutor in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty.

Nevertheless, the prosecution does not have carte blanche in devising non-statutory aggravating factors. At least four limitations guide the prosecution in exercising its delegated authority. First, the statute limits the scope of aggravating factors to those for which prior notice has been...

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