Mock Supreme Court Case BriefsLucia GruberWestern Washington University FURMAN V. GEORGIA, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)FACTS: Furman, joined with the cases Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas, was granted certiorari and heard collectively by the Court. All three defendants were black men. While burglarizing a house in the middle of the night, William Henry Furman was discovered by the resident. Attempting to flee the scene of the crime, Furman shot through a closed door, killing the resident. Pending trial, he was committed to the Georgia Central State Hospital for psychiatric examination due to his plea of insanity. It was determined that Furman was able to distinguish right from wrong and had the ability to work with his legal counsel to prepare his defense, although he did face mental challenges. Since the shooting occurred during the commission of a felony, making Furman eligible for the death penalty. Furman was tried for murder and found guilty based largely on his own statement. Branch entered the home of a white woman while she slept, raped her and then demanded money. As he was leaving, he threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the incident. He was found to have borderline mental challenges. Jackson was also convicted of raping a white woman after her husband left for work, pressing scissors up against her neck. He was a convict who had escaped from a work gang in the area. Both Jackson and Furman were convicted of rape. ISSUE(S): Under the totality of the circumstances, does the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments? HOLDING(S): Yes, under the totality of the circumstances, the Court holds that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. REASON: The Court determined that the imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Each Justice filed a separate opinion. Justice Marshall cited Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, which states that the Eighth Amendment, “Must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency”. Therefore, once utilized punishments may no longer be deemed constitutional. Justice Douglas stated that the death penalty is applied discriminatorily. Any law that discriminated against certain groups of individual can be applied in such a way that it violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The convictions in Furman v. Georgia could be perceived as discriminatory because all three defendants were black men who were sentenced to death. Justice Douglas cited the decision in Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 as being influential in his decision. POLICY: Furman v. Georgia was a landmark case that called into question whether the imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment. It caused all death sentences pending at the time to be reduced to life imprisonment. The Court’s decision forced individual states and the United States Congress to rethink their statues for capital offenses to ensure that the death penalty would not be administered in a cruel or unusual manner, or discriminatorily. In the four years follow the Court’s decision, over half of the states enacted new death penalty laws aimed at overcoming these concerns.GREGG V. GEORGIA, 428 U.S. 154 (1976)FACTS: Troy Leon Gregg received a ride while hitchhiking from Fred Edward Simmons and Bob Durwood Moore. He then proceeded to murder and rob the two men. The cause of death was determined to be bullet wounds. A jury found Gregg guilty of armed robbery and murder, and sentenced him to death after a two stage trial. In accordance with Georgia procedure on capital cases, there was a guilt stage followed by a sentencing stage. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence on the grounds of the murders, but not the robbery convictions. The Court set aside the defendant’s death sentences on the robbery counts, on that basis that defendants who commit that crime rarely receive capital punishment for that crime. The court upheld the defendant’s death sentences in regard to the murder convictions. Gregg challenged his remaining death sentence for murder, claiming that his capital punishment sentence was “cruel and unusual” punishment that violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment. ISSUE(S): Under the totality of the circumstances, is the imposition of the death sentence prohibited under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments as “cruel and unusual” punishment under all circumstances? HOLDING(S): No, under the totality of the circumstances, the Court held that the death penalty did not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution because it establishes a particular set of procedures to prevent the imposition of the death penalty in a manner that would violate the protections of individuals. REASONING: After Furman v. Georgia the Court was determined to simultaneously save capital punishment in the United States and impose some reasoned basis for carrying it out. The Court found that the system that was used to determine Gregg’s guilt was careful and he had gone through two trials. Capital punishment must be carried out in a manner consistent with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society. In this case, nothing was done that violated those evolving standards. Therefore, there was no Eighth Amendment violation and the death penalty was constitutional in this case.POLICY: The goal of the Court was to allow the continuation of capital punishment but make it appropriate to fit within modern society. This landmark case that reinstated the death penalty following Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972). In the wake of this decision, jurors and judges responsible for sentencing during a death penalty cases may now consider aggravating and mitigating factors to determine if the death sentence is appropriate in that situation. In order to sentence a defendant to death, the aggravating factors of the case must outweigh the mitigating factors. LOCKHART v. McCREE, 476 U.S. 162 (1986)FACTS: Ardia McCree was charged with capital murder in Arkansas in the death of Evelyn Boughton. Boughton, the owner of a gift shop and service station was shot and killed. Later that day, McCree was arrested after a police officer saw him driving a car that matched the description of the car which was observed leaving the scene. During the voir dire process, the trial judge removed eight prospective jurors who stated that under no circumstances could they vote in favor of the death penalty. This action was in accordance with Arkansas law. McCree objected and the jury convicted and sentenced to him life sentence without the possibility of parole, rejecting the State’s request for the death penalty. The conviction was affirmed. McCree filed a federal habeas corpus petition, claiming that the “death qualification” or the “Witherspoon-excludable” violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the judge’s actions violated the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. A.L. Lockhart, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. ISSUE(S): Under the totality of the circumstances, during a capital trial, does the Constitution of the United States prohibit the removal of prospective jurors whose opposition to the death penalty is so extreme that it would prevent or significantly impair the performance of their duties at the sentencing phase of the trial? HOLDING(S):No, under the totality of the circumstances excluding prospective jurors who whose oppose the death penalty under any circumstance does not violate the defendant’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. REASON:Justice Rehnquist argued that the state has an interest to select jurors who, “can properly and impartially apply the law to the facts of the case at both the guilt and sentencing phases of a capital trial”. The main stipulation is that the jury must be selected from a representative cross section of the community that has the ability to be impartial and can properly apply the law to the circumstances of the specific case. If the jury meets these criteria then a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial is being protected.POLICY: The decision in Lockhart v. McCree expresses the Supreme Court’s interest in empaneling juries that are willing to convict a capital defendant and impose the death penalty. Their interest to impose a death sentence conviction outweighs the interest in the preservation of the defendant’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as put forth by Witherspoon. So long as the jury is selected from a representative cross section of the community where the crime occurred, the defendant is receiving a fair trial.MU’MIN V. VIRGINIA, 500 U.S. 415 (1991)FACTS:Mu’min was a Virginia inmate serving a 48-year sentence for a 1973 first-degree murder conviction. While out of prison on a work detail in Prince William County, Virginia, Mu’min escaped during his lunch break over a perimeter fence and made his way to a nearby shopping center. He proceeded to murder Galdy Nopwasky, the owner of a retail carpet and flooring store with a sharp instrument. He then returned to his work detail. The case caught the attention of the local news and 47 newspaper articles had been published three months before the trial date. At least one article discussed details of the murder and contained information regarding Mu’Min’s criminal history. The trial judge denied Mu’Min’s pretrial motion for individual voir dire and refused to ask any of his questions that were related to the content of the news. Initially, the judge questioned prospective jurors as a group, and posed four separate questions regarding the influence of pretrial publicity. After one potential juror was dismissed for revealing they had acquired knowledge of the case from news sources, the judge conducted voir dire in groups of four. Although eight of the twelve sworn jurors admitted to having read or heard something about the case, none indicated that they had formed an opinion based on outside information, or that they would be biased in any way. The jury found Mu’Min guilty of capital murder, and the judge sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed this ruling, stating that the defendant may ask whether a juror has prior knowledge of the case, but that they do not have the constitutional right to know the content of the information. ISSUE(S):Under the totality of the circumstances, did the trial judge’s refusal to question prospective jurors about the specific contents of the news reports to which they had been exposed violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury or his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment? HOLDING(S): No, under the totality of the circumstances the trial judge’s refusal to question prospective jurors about the specific contents of the news report to which they had been exposed did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury or his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. REASONING:The Court has provided wide discretion to trial courts in conducting voir dire in the area of pretrial publicity, as well as other areas that may tend to show juror bias. As demonstrated in Alridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, the court must cover the subject of possible racial bias in jurors, but does not specify in detail how it should be conducted. The Court stated that Mu’Min misplaces his relaine in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, in which the Court held that the defendant was entitled to a change of venue because the jury pool was so tainted. Although pretrial publicity was extensive in Mu’Min’s case, it was not nearly as damaging or extensive as that found in Irvin’s. POLICY: The defendant does not have the right to know the contents of the pretrial publicity potential members of the jury heard or read. The Court must only know if the potential jury members can be impartial.