BALDWIN V. ALABAMA, 472 U. S. 372 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Baldwin v. Alabama, 472 U.S. 372 (1985)

Baldwin v. Alabama

No. 84-5743

Argued March 27, 1985

Decided June 17, 1985

472 U.S. 372


Alabama's 1975 Death Penalty Act (later repealed) required a jury that convicted a defendant of any one of a number of specified aggravated crimes to "fix the punishment at death." However, the "sentence" fixed by the jury was not dispositive, because the Act provided that,

"[n]otwithstanding the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury, the court, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances"

brought out at a required sentencing hearing, could refuse to accept the death penalty and, instead, could impose a life sentence, or, after weighing such circumstances, "and the fixing of the punishment at death by the jury," could sentence the defendant to death. Petitioner was convicted under the Act of a specified capital offense, and the jury's verdict fixed his punishment at death. After conducting the required sentencing hearing and weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the judge accepted the death penalty as fixed by the jury. The Alabama Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the conviction and sentence, rejecting petitioner's contention that the Act was facially unconstitutional. The court held that, even though the jury had no discretion regarding the "sentence" it would impose, the sentencing procedure was saved by the fact that it was the trial judge who was the true sentencing authority, and he considered aggravating and mitigating circumstances before imposing sentence.

Held: Alabama's requirement that the jury return a "sentence" of death along with its guilty verdict did not render unconstitutional the death sentence the trial judge imposed after independently considering petitioner's background and character and the circumstances of his crime. Pp. 472 U. S. 379-389.

(a) Although the Alabama scheme would have been unconstitutional if the jury's mandatory death "sentence" were dispositive, there is no merit to petitioner's contention that the trial judge's sentence was unconstitutional because the Act required the judge to consider, and accord some deference to, the jury's "sentence." While the Act's language did not expressly preclude, and might seem to have authorized, the sentencing judge's consideration of the jury's "sentence" in determining whether the death penalty was appropriate, the Alabama appellate courts have interpreted the Act to mean that the sentencing judge was to impose a sentence without regard to the jury's mandatory "sentence." Moreover,

Page 472 U. S. 373

it was clear that the sentencing judge here did not interpret the statute as requiring him to consider the jury's "sentence," because he never described the "sentence" as a factor in his deliberations. Pp. 472 U. S. 382-386.

(b) Nor is there merit to the contention that a trial judge's decision to impose the death penalty must have been swayed by the fact that the jury returned a "sentence" of death. Beck v. Alabama, 447 U. S. 625, distinguished. The judge knew that determination of the appropriate sentence was not within the jury's province, and that the jury did not consider evidence in mitigation in arriving at its "sentence." Pp. 472 U. S. 386-389.

456 So.2d 129, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 472 U. S. 390. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 472 U. S. 392. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 472 U. S. 393.

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