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LOCKETT v. OHIO

decided: July 3, 1978.

LOCKETT
v.
OHIO



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO.

Burger, C. J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, in which Stewart, White, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 613. Marshall, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 619. White, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment, and dissenting in part, post, p. 621. Rehnquist, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 628. Brennan, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Burger

[ 438 U.S. Page 589]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to the constitutionality of petitioner's conviction (Parts I and II), together with an opinion (Part III), in which MR. JUSTICE STEWART, MR. JUSTICE POWELL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS joined, on the constitutionality of the statute under which petitioner was sentenced to death, and announced the judgment of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider, among other questions, whether Ohio violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by sentencing Sandra Lockett to death pursuant to a statute*fn1 that narrowly limits the sentencer's discretion to consider the circumstances of the crime and the record and character of the offender as mitigating factors.

I

Lockett was charged with aggravated murder with the aggravating specifications (1) that the murder was "committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment" for aggravated robbery, and (2) that the murder was "committed while . . . committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit . . . aggravated robbery." That offense was punishable by death in Ohio. See Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.03, 2929.04 (1975). She was also charged with aggravated robbery. The State's case against her depended largely upon the testimony of a coparticipant, one Al Parker, who gave the following account of her participation in the robbery and murder.

Lockett became acquainted with Parker and Nathan Earl Dew while she and a friend, Joanne Baxter, were in New Jersey. Parker and Dew then accompanied Lockett, Baxter, and Lockett's brother back to Akron, Ohio, Lockett's hometown.

[ 438 U.S. Page 590]

     After they arrived in Akron, Parker and Dew needed money for the trip back to New Jersey. Dew suggested that he pawn his ring. Lockett overheard his suggestion, but felt that the ring was too beautiful to pawn, and suggested instead that they could get some money by robbing a grocery store and a furniture store in the area. She warned that the grocery store's operator was a "big guy" who carried a "45" and that they would have "to get him real quick." She also volunteered to get a gun from her father's basement to aid in carrying out the robberies, but by that time, the two stores had closed and it was too late to proceed with the plan to rob them.

Someone, apparently Lockett's brother, suggested a plan for robbing a pawnshop. He and Dew would enter the shop and pretend to pawn a ring. Next Parker, who had some bullets, would enter the shop, ask to see a gun, load it, and use it to rob the shop. No one planned to kill the pawnshop operator in the course of the robbery. Because she knew the owner, Lockett was not to be among those entering the pawnshop, though she did guide the others to the shop that night.

The next day Parker, Dew, Lockett, and her brother gathered at Baxter's apartment. Lockett's brother asked if they were "still going to do it," and everyone, including Lockett, agreed to proceed. The four then drove by the pawnshop several times and parked the car. Lockett's brother and Dew entered the shop. Parker then left the car and told Lockett to start it again in two minutes. The robbery proceeded according to plan until the pawnbroker grabbed the gun when Parker announced the "stickup." The gun went off with Parker's finger on the trigger, firing a fatal shot into the pawnbroker.

Parker went back to the car where Lockett waited with the engine running. While driving away from the pawnshop, Parker told Lockett what had happened. She took the gun from the pawnshop and put it into her purse. Lockett and

[ 438 U.S. Page 591]

     Parker drove to Lockett's aunt's house and called a taxicab. Shortly thereafter, while riding away in a taxicab, they were stopped by the police, but by this time Lockett had placed the gun under the front seat. Lockett told the police that Parker rented a room from her mother and lived with her family. After verifying this story with Lockett's parents, the police released Lockett and Parker. Lockett hid Dew and Parker in the attic when the police arrived at the Lockett household later that evening.

Parker was subsequently apprehended and charged with aggravated murder with specifications, an offense punishable by death, and aggravated robbery. Prior to trial, he pleaded guilty to the murder charge and agreed to testify against Lockett, her brother, and Dew. In return, the prosecutor dropped the aggravated robbery charge and the specifications to the murder charge, thereby eliminating the possibility that Parker could receive the death penalty.

Lockett's brother and Dew were later convicted of aggravated murder with specifications. Lockett's brother was sentenced to death, but Dew received a lesser penalty because it was determined that his offense was "primarily the product of mental deficiency," one of the three mitigating circumstances specified in the Ohio death penalty statute.

Two weeks before Lockett's separate trial, the prosecutor offered to permit her to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery (offenses which each carried a maximum penalty of 25 years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000, see Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2903.03, 2911.01, 2929.11 (1975)) if she would cooperate with the State, but she rejected the offer. Just prior to her trial, the prosecutor offered to permit her to plead guilty to aggravated murder without specifications, an offense carrying a mandatory life penalty, with the understanding that the aggravated robbery charge and an outstanding forgery charge would be dismissed. Again she rejected the offer.

[ 438 U.S. Page 592]

     At trial, the opening argument of Lockett's defense counsel summarized what appears to have been Lockett's version of the events leading to the killing. He asserted the evidence would show that, as far as Lockett knew, Dew and her brother had planned to pawn Dew's ring for $100 to obtain money for the trip back to New Jersey. Lockett had not waited in the car while the men went into the pawnshop but had gone to a restaurant for lunch and had joined Parker, thinking the ring had been pawned, after she saw him walking back to the car. Lockett's counsel asserted that the evidence would show further that Parker had placed the gun under the seat in the taxicab and that Lockett had voluntarily gone to the police station when she learned that the police were looking for the pawnbroker's killers.

Parker was the State's first witness. His testimony related his version of the robbery and shooting, and he admitted to a prior criminal record of breaking and entering, larceny, and receiving stolen goods, as well as bond jumping. He also acknowledged that his plea to aggravated murder had eliminated the possibility of the death penalty, and that he had agreed to testify against Lockett, her brother, and Dew as part of his plea agreement with the prosecutor. At the end of the major portion of Parker's testimony, the prosecutor renewed his offer to permit Lockett to plead guilty to aggravated murder without specifications and to drop the other charges against her. For the third time Lockett refused the option of pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

Lockett called Dew and her brother as defense witnesses, but they invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify. In the course of the defense presentation, Lockett's counsel informed the court, in the presence of the jury, that he believed Lockett was to be the next witness and requested a short recess. After the recess, Lockett's counsel told the judge that Lockett wished to testify but had decided to accept her mother's advice to remain silent, despite her counsel's warning that, if she followed that advice, she would have no

[ 438 U.S. Page 593]

     defense except the cross-examination of the State's witnesses. Thus, the defense did not introduce any evidence to rebut the prosecutor's case.

The court instructed the jury that, before it could find Lockett guilty, it had to find that she purposely had killed the pawnbroker while committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery. The jury was further charged that one who

"purposely aids, helps, associates himself or herself with another for the purpose of committing a crime is regarded as if he or she were the principal offender and is just as guilty as if the person performed every act constituting the offense. . . ."

Regarding the intent requirement, the court instructed:

"A person engaged in a common design with others to rob by force and violence an individual or individuals of their property is presumed to acquiesce in whatever may reasonably be necessary to accomplish the object of their enterprise. . . .

"If the conspired robbery and the manner of its accomplishment would be reasonably likely to produce death, each plotter is equally guilty with the principal offender as an aider and abettor in the homicide . . . . An intent to kill by an aider and abettor may be found to exist beyond a reasonable doubt under such circumstances."

The jury found Lockett guilty as charged.

Once a verdict of aggravated murder with specifications had been returned, the Ohio death penalty statute required the trial judge to impose a death sentence unless, after "considering the nature and circumstances of the offense" and Lockett's "history, character, and condition," he found by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the victim had induced or facilitated the offense, (2) it was unlikely that Lockett would have committed the offense but for the fact that she "was under duress, coercion, or strong provocation," or (3) the

[ 438 U.S. Page 594]

     offense was "primarily the product of [Lockett's] psychosis or mental deficiency." Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2929.03-2929.04 (B) (1975).

In accord with the Ohio statute, the trial judge requested a presentence report as well as psychiatric and psychological reports. The reports contained detailed information about Lockett's intelligence, character, and background. The psychiatric and psychological reports described her as a 21-year-old with low-average or average intelligence, and not suffering from a mental deficiency. One of the psychologists reported that "her prognosis for rehabilitation" if returned to society was favorable. The presentence report showed that Lockett had committed no major offenses although she had a record of several minor ones as a juvenile and two minor offenses as an adult. It also showed that she had once used heroin but was receiving treatment at a drug abuse clinic and seemed to be "on the road to success" as far as her drug problem was concerned. It concluded that Lockett suffered no psychosis and was not mentally deficient.*fn2

After considering the reports and hearing argument on the penalty issue, the trial judge concluded that the offense had not been primarily the product of psychosis or mental deficiency. Without specifically addressing the other two statutory mitigating factors, the judge said that he had "no alternative, whether [he] [liked] the law or not" but to impose the death penalty. He then sentenced Lockett to death.

II

A

At the outset, we address Lockett's various challenges to the validity of her conviction. Her first contention is that the

[ 438 U.S. Page 595]

     prosecutor's repeated references in his closing remarks to the State's evidence as "unrefuted" and "uncontradicted" constituted a comment on her failure to testify and violated her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. See Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). We conclude, however, that the prosecutor's closing comments in this case did not violate constitutional prohibitions. Lockett's own counsel had clearly focused the jury's attention on her silence, first, by outlining her contemplated defense in his opening statement and, second, by stating to the court and jury near the close of the case, that Lockett would be the "next witness." When viewed against this background, it seems clear that the prosecutor's closing remarks added nothing to the impression that had already been created by Lockett's refusal to testify after the jury had been promised a defense by her lawyer and told that Lockett would take the stand.

B

Lockett also contends that four prospective jurors were excluded from the venire in violation of her Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the principles established in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), and Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 528 (1975). We do not agree.

On voir dire, the prosecutor told the venire that there was a possibility that the death penalty might be imposed, but that the judge would make the final decision as to punishment. He then asked whether any of the prospective jurors were so opposed to capital punishment that "they could not sit, listen to the evidence, listen to the law, [and] make their determination solely upon the evidence and the law without considering the fact that capital punishment" might be imposed. Four of the venire responded affirmatively. The trial judge then addressed the following question to those four veniremen:

"[Do] you feel that you could take an oath to well and truely [sic] try this case . . . and follow the law, or is

[ 438 U.S. Page 596]

     your conviction so strong that you cannot take an oath, knowing that a possibility exists in regard to capital punishment?"

Each of the four specifically stated twice that he or she would not "take the oath." They were excused.

In Witherspoon, persons generally opposed to capital punishment had been excluded for cause from the jury that convicted and sentenced the petitioner to death. We did not disturb the conviction but we held that "a sentence of death cannot be carried out if the jury that imposed or recommended it was chosen by excluding veniremen for cause simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction." 391 U.S., at 522. We specifically noted, however, that nothing in our opinion prevented the execution of a death sentence when the veniremen excluded for cause make it "unmistakably clear . . . that their attitude toward the death penalty would prevent them from making an impartial decision as to the defendant's guilt." Id., at 522-523, n. 21.

Each of the excluded veniremen in this case made it "unmistakably clear" that they could not be trusted to "abide by existing law" and "to follow conscientiously the instructions" of the trial judge. Boulden v. Holman, 394 U.S. 478, 484 (1969). They were thus properly excluded under Witherspoon, even assuming, arguendo, that Witherspoon provides a basis for attacking the conviction as well as the sentence in a capital case.

Nor was there any violation of the principles of Taylor v. Louisiana, supra. In Taylor, the Court invalidated a jury selection system that operated to exclude a "grossly disproportionate," 419 U.S., at 525, number of women from jury service thereby depriving the petitioner of a jury chosen from a "fair cross-section" of the community, id., at 530. Nothing in Taylor, however, suggests that the right to a representative jury includes the right to be tried by jurors who have explicitly

[ 438 U.S. Page 597]

     indicated an inability to follow the law and instructions of the trial judge.

C

Lockett's final attack on her conviction, as distinguished from her sentence, merits only brief attention. Specifically she contends that the Ohio Supreme Court's interpretation of the complicity provision of the statute under which she was convicted, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.03 (A) (1975), was so unexpected that it deprived her of fair warning of the crime with which she was charged. The opinion of the Ohio Supreme Court belies this claim. It shows clearly that the construction given the statute by the Ohio court was consistent with both prior Ohio law and with the legislative history of the statute.*fn3 In such circumstances, any claim of inadequate notice under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment must be rejected.

III

Lockett challenges the constitutionality of Ohio's death penalty statute on a number of grounds. We find it necessary to consider only her contention that her death sentence is invalid because the statute under which it was imposed did not permit the sentencing judge to consider, as mitigating factors, her character, prior record, age, lack of specific intent to cause death, and her relatively minor part in the crime. To address her contention from the proper perspective, it is helpful to review the developments in our recent cases where we have applied the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to death penalty statutes. We do not write on a "clean slate."

A

Prior to Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), every State that authorized capital punishment had abandoned

[ 438 U.S. Page 598]

     mandatory death penalties,*fn4 and instead permitted the jury unguided and unrestrained discretion regarding the imposition of the death penalty in a particular capital case.*fn5 Mandatory death penalties had proved unsatisfactory, as the plurality noted in Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 293 (1976), in part because juries, "with some regularity, disregarded their oaths and refused to convict defendants where a death sentence was the automatic consequence of a guilty verdict."

This Court had never intimated prior to Furman that discretion in sentencing offended the Constitution. See Pennsylvania ex rel. Sullivan v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51, 55 (1937); Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 247 (1949); Williams v. Oklahoma, 358 U.S. 576, 585 (1959). As recently as McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971), the Court had specifically rejected the contention that discretion in imposing the death penalty violated the fundamental standards of fairness embodied in Fourteenth Amendment due process, id., at 207-208, and had asserted that States were entitled to assume that "jurors confronted with the truly awesome responsibility of decreeing death for a fellow human [would] act with due regard for the consequences of their decision." Id., at 208.

The constitutional status of discretionary sentencing in capital cases changed abruptly, however, as a result of the separate opinions supporting the judgment in Furman. The question in Furman was whether "the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty [in the cases before the Court] [constituted] cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments." 408 U.S., at 239. Two Justices concluded that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the death penalty altogether and on that ground voted

[ 438 U.S. Page 599]

     to reverse the judgments sustaining the death penalties. Id., at 305-306 (BRENNAN, J., concurring); id., at 370-371 (MARSHALL, J., concurring). Three Justices were unwilling to hold the death penalty per se unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, but voted to reverse the judgments on other grounds. In separate opinions, the three concluded that discretionary sentencing, unguided by legislatively defined standards, violated the Eighth Amendment because it was "pregnant with discrimination," id., at 257 (Douglas, J., concurring), because it permitted the death penalty to be "wantonly" and "freakishly" imposed, id., at 310 (STEWART, J., concurring), and because it imposed the death penalty with "great infrequency" and afforded "no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which it [was] imposed from the many cases in which it [was] not," id., at 313 (WHITE, J., concurring). Thus, what had been approved under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in McGautha became impermissible under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by virtue of the judgment in Furman. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 195-196, n. 47 (1976) (opinion of STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ.).

Predictably,*fn6 the variety of opinions supporting the judgment in Furman engendered confusion as to what was required in order to impose the death penalty in accord with the Eighth Amendment.*fn7 Some States responded to what was thought to

[ 438 U.S. Page 600]

     be the command of Furman by adopting mandatory death penalties for a limited category of specific crimes thus eliminating all discretion from the sentencing process in capital cases.*fn8 Other States attempted to continue the practice of individually assessing the culpability of each individual defendant convicted of a capital offense and, at the same time, to comply with Furman, by providing standards to guide the sentencing decision.*fn9

Four years after Furman, we considered Eighth Amendment

[ 438 U.S. Page 601]

     issues posed by five of the post- Furman death penalty statutes.*fn10 Four Justices took the position that all five statutes complied with the Constitution; two Justices took the position that none of them complied. Hence, the disposition of each case varied according to the votes of three Justices who delivered a joint opinion in each of the five cases upholding the constitutionality of the statutes of Georgia, Florida, and Texas, and holding those of North Carolina and Louisiana unconstitutional.

The joint opinion reasoned that, to comply with Furman, sentencing procedures should not create "a substantial risk that the death penalty [will] be inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner." Gregg v. Georgia, supra, at 188. In the view of the three Justices, however, Furman did not require that all sentencing discretion be eliminated, but only that it be "directed and limited," 428 U.S., at 189, so that the death penalty would be imposed in a more consistent and rational manner and so that there would be a "meaningful basis for distinguishing the . . . cases in which it is imposed from . . . the many cases in which it is not." Id., at 188. The plurality concluded, in the course of invalidating North Carolina's mandatory death penalty statute, that the sentencing process must permit consideration of the "character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death," Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S., at 304, in ...


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