WILLIAMS V. NEW YORK, 337 U. S. 241 (1949)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241 (1949)

Williams v. New York

No. 671

Argued April 21, 1949

Decided June 6, 1949

337 U.S. 241


The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that a person convicted after a fair trial be confronted with and permitted to cross-examine witnesses as to his prior criminal record considered by the judge in accordance with a state statute in determining what sentence to impose pursuant to broad discretion vested in him under state law -- even when the jury recommends life imprisonment and the judge imposes a death sentence. Pp. 337 U. S. 242-252.

(a) It has long been the practice to permit the sentencing judge to exercise a wide discretion as to the sources and types of information used to assist him in determining the sentence to be imposed within the limits fixed by law. P. 337 U. S. 246.

(b) Modern concepts individualizing punishment have made it all the more necessary that a sentencing judge not be denied an opportunity to obtain pertinent information by a requirement of rigid adherence to restrictive rules of evidence properly applicable to the trial. Pp. 337 U. S. 246-249.

(c) To deprive the sentencing judge of information contained in reports of probation officers would undermine modern penological procedural policies that have been cautiously adopted throughout the nation after careful consideration and experimentation. Pp. 337 U. S. 249-250

(d) In considering the sentence to be imposed after conviction, the sentencing judge is not restricted to information received in open court. Pp. 337 U. S. 250-251.

(e) A different result is not required when a death sentence is imposed. Pp. 337 U. S. 251-252.

298 N.Y. 803, 83 N.E. 2d 698, affirmed.

After a fair trial, appellant was convicted of murder in the first degree and the jury recommended life imprisonment. After considering information as to his previous criminal record without permitting him to confront or cross-examine the witnesses on that subject, the trial

Page 337 U. S. 242

judge sentenced him to death. The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed. 298 N.Y. 803, 83 N.E.2d 698. On appeal to this Court, affirmed, p. 337 U. S. 252.

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