FRANKLIN V. LYNAUGH, 487 U. S. 164 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Franklin v. Lynaugh, 487 U.S. 164 (1988)

Franklin v. Lynaugh

No. 87-5546

Argued March 1, 1988

Decided June 22, 1988

487 U.S. 164


At petitioner's Texas capital murder trial, his principal defense was that he had been mistakenly identified, and that -- even if he was the person who stabbed the victim -- her death resulted from incompetent hospital treatment, and not the assault. After the jury found him guilty, the sole mitigating evidence he presented at the penalty phase was the stipulation that his disciplinary record while incarcerated, both before and after the murder, was without incident. At the conclusion of the penalty hearing, the trial court, pursuant to state law, submitted two "Special Issues" to the jury, asking whether it found from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt (1) that the murder was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that death would result, and (2) that there was a probability that petitioner would constitute a continuing threat to society. The court instructed the jury that, if their answer was "Yes" to both questions, petitioner would be sentenced to death. Earlier, in order to direct the jury's consideration of the Special Issues, petitioner had submitted five "special requested" jury instructions, which, in essence, would have told the jury that any evidence they felt mitigated against the death penalty should be taken into account in answering the Special Issues, and could alone be enough to return a negative answer to either one or both of the questions, even if they otherwise believed that "Yes" answers were warranted. The court declined to give the requested instructions, and instead remonstrated the jury to remember and be guided by all instructions previously given, which included the charge that they arrive at their verdict based on all the evidence. After the jury returned "Yes" answers to both Special Issues, the court sentenced petitioner to death, and the state appellate court affirmed. Petitioner then filed this habeas corpus action, arguing that, absent his special requested instructions, the Special Issues limited the jury's consideration of mitigating evidence in violation of the Eighth Amendment under this Court's decisions. Rejecting this claim, the District Court denied relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

823 F.2d 98, affirmed.

JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE SCALIA, and JUSTICE KENNEDY, concluded that the trial court's refusal to give petitioner's

Page 487 U. S. 165

requested special instructions did not violate his Eighth Amendment right to present mitigating evidence. Neither the instructions actually given nor the Texas Special Issues precluded jury consideration of any relevant mitigating circumstances, or otherwise unconstitutionally limited the jury's discretion. Pp. 487 U. S. 171-183.

(a) There is no merit to petitioner's contention that the sentencing jury was deprived of a sufficient opportunity to consider any "residual doubt" it might have harbored about his identity as the murderer, or about the extent to which his actions (as opposed to medical mistreatment) actually caused, or were intended to result in, the victim's death. This Court has never held that a capital defendant has a constitutional right to an instruction telling the jury to revisit the question of his guilt as a basis for mitigation. The discussion of the "residual doubt" question in Lockhart v. McCree, 476 U. S. 162, stands only for the simple truism that such doubts will inure to the defendant's benefit where the State is willing to allow him to capitalize upon them. Nor does Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U. S. 104, establish the claimed "right," since lingering doubts over the defendant's guilt do not relate to his "character" or "record," or to "the circumstances of the offense," which the sentencer must be given a chance to consider in mitigation. However, even if the claimed "right" existed, the rejection of petitioner's proffered instructions did not impair that right, since the trial court placed no limitation on petitioner's opportunity to press the "residual doubts" issue. Moreover, the medical mistreatment and intentional killing questions are precisely the type of concerns that the jury might have considered in answering the deliberateness question of the first Special Issue, and, thus, petitioner was not deprived of any opportunity to make, and in fact made, a nondeliberateness argument to the jury. In any case, there was nothing in the proffered special instructions that offered specific direction to the jury concerning their consideration of any of these "residual doubt" questions. Pp. 487 U. S. 172-176.

(b) Since, at the sentencing hearing, petitioner was permitted to emphasize evidence of his good prison disciplinary record with regard to the second Special Issue concerning future dangerousness, the jury was not precluded from giving adequate mitigating weight to that evidence. Petitioner's contention that the failure to give his requested instructions deprived the evidence of its significance as a reflection of his "character" independent of its relevance to the Special Issues is not convincing, since nothing in this Court's cases suggests that "character," as illuminated by a disciplinary record, encompasses anything more than likely future behavior. Cf. Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U. S. 1. Furthermore, nothing in petitioner's presentation or discussion of his record at the hearing suggested that the jury should consider that evidence as probative of anything more than future dangerousness. Petitioner cannot

Page 487 U. S. 166

avail himself of the statement in Eddings, supra, at 455 U. S. 114, that the sentencing jury may not be precluded from considering "any relevant mitigating evidence," since the State is entitled to structure the jury's consideration of mitigating factors. The claim that the jury should have been instructed that it was entitled to vote against the death penalty "independent" of its answers to the Special Issues is foreclosed by Jurek v. Texas, 428 U. S. 262, which held that the State could constitutionally impose death if the jury answered "Yes" to both Special Issues. Pp. 487 U. S. 177-180.

(c) The Texas capital sentencing system adequately allows for jury consideration of mitigating circumstances, and therefore sufficiently provides for jury discretion. Pp. 487 U. S. 181-182.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR, joined by JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that the Texas capital sentencing procedure did not unconstitutionally prevent the jury from giving mitigating effect to any evidence relevant to petitioner's character or background or the circumstances of the offense. Pp. 487 U. S. 183-188.

(a) Although the Texas procedure did confine consideration of the stipulation as to petitioner's prison disciplinary record to the context of the special verdict question regarding future dangerousness, thereby preventing the jury from treating the stipulation as if it were relevant to other character traits, that limitation has no practical or constitutional significance on the facts of this case, because the stipulation had no relevance to any aspect of petitioner's character other than a lack of future dangerousness. Thus, petitioner was not prejudiced by the limitation, since it did not interfere with his presentation of mitigating evidence or with the jury's ability to give effect to that evidence. Cf. Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U. S. 1. Pp. 487 U. S. 185-187.

(b) Although the capital sentencing procedure may have prevented the jury from giving effect to any "residual doubts" it might have had about petitioner's guilt, that limitation did not violate the Eighth Amendment. Rather than being a fact about the defendant's character or background or the circumstances of the particular offense, "residual doubt" is merely a lingering uncertainty about facts -- a state of mind that exists somewhere between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "absolute certainty" -- and thus is not a mitigating circumstance under this Court's decisions, which have never required such a heightened burden of proof at capital sentencing. Pp. 487 U. S. 187-188.

WHITE, J., announced the judgment of the Court, and delivered an opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 183. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 189.

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