ZANT V. STEPHENS, 456 U. S. 410 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zant v. Stephens, 456 U.S. 410 (1982)

Zant v. Stephens

No. 81-89

Argued February 24, 1982

Decided May 3, 1982

456 U.S. 410


After respondent was convicted of murder in a Georgia trial court, his sentencing jury found the existence of three aggravating circumstances specified in the Georgia death penalty statute and imposed the death penalty. Although the Georgia Supreme Court set aside one of the aggravating circumstances found by the jury, it upheld the death sentence, concluding that the evidence supported the jury's findings of the other aggravating circumstances, and that therefore the sentence was not impaired. After exhausting state postconviction remedies, respondent filed for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which denied relief. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded insofar as the District Court had left standing respondent's death sentence. This Court granted the petition for certiorari to consider the question whether a reviewing court constitutionally may sustain a death sentence as long as at least one of a plurality of statutory aggravating circumstances found by the jury is valid and supported by the evidence. The Georgia Supreme Court consistently has asserted that authority, but there is considerable uncertainty about the state law premises of Georgia's rule.

Held: Such state law premises are relevant to the constitutional issue at hand. Thus, pursuant to a Georgia statute providing that, under certain circumstances, the Georgia Supreme Court will decide questions of state law upon certification from this Court, the following question is certified: What are the premises of state law that support the conclusion that the death sentence in this case is not impaired by the invalidity of one of the statutory aggravating circumstances found by the jury?

631 F.2d 397 and 648 F.2d 446, question certified.

Page 456 U. S. 411

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