OCTOBER TERM, 1992
on petition for writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit
No. 92-409. Decided March 8, 1993
During the penalty phase of respondent Lashley's capital murder trial, his counsel requested that the jury be instructed on the mitigating circumstance that Lashley had no significant criminal history. However, when neither Lashley's counsel nor the prosecutor presented proof of the mitigating circumstance, the trial judge refused to give the requested instruction and Lashley was sentenced to death. Subsequently a Federal District Court dismissed Lashley's habeas petition, rejecting his claim that the state judge's failure to give the instruction violated due process. The Court of Appeals granted relief, holding that this Court's decision in Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586, required the State, which was in a peculiarly advantageous position to show a significant prior criminal history, to come forward with evidence or else the court must instruct the jury on the mitigating circumstance.
Held: State courts are not obligated by the Constitution to give mitigating circumstance instructions when no evidence is offered to support them. Because the jury heard no evidence concerning Lashley's prior criminal history, the trial judge did not err in refusing to give the requested instruction. States are not better positioned than defendants to adduce evidence of a defendant's own criminal history. Assuming, arguendo, that a presumption of innocence of other crimes did attach at Lashley's sentencing, he still was not constitutionally entitled to a "presumption of innocence" instruction.
Certiorari granted; 957 F. 2d 1495, reversed.
Respondent Frederick Lashley brutally beat and stabbed to death his 55-year-old, physically impaired cousin and foster mother, Janie Tracy, in the course of robbing her. An
*Justice Souter joins only Part I of this opinion.Page: Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Next
Last modified: October 4, 2007