Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 2 (1994)

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Cite as: 512 U. S. 154 (1994)


2. The trial court's instruction that life imprisonment was to be understood in its plain and ordinary meaning did not satisfy petitioner's request for a parole ineligibility charge, since it did nothing to dispel the misunderstanding reasonable jurors may have about the way in which any particular State defines "life imprisonment." Pp. 169-171.

Justice O'Connor, joined by The Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy, concluded that where the State puts a defendant's future dangerousness in issue, and the only available alternative sentence to death is life imprisonment without possibility of parole, due process entitles the defendant to inform the sentencing jury—either by argument or instruction—that he is parole ineligible. If the prosecution does not argue future dangerousness, a State may appropriately decide that parole is not a proper issue for the jury's consideration even if the only alternative sentence to death is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Here, the trial court's instruction did not satisfy petitioner's request for a parole ineligibility charge, since the rejection of parole is a recent development displacing the longstanding practice of parole availability, and since common sense dictates that many jurors might not know whether a life sentence carries with it the possibility of parole. Pp. 175-178.

Blackmun, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Stevens, J., joined, post, p. 172. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 174. O'Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Kennedy, J., joined, post, p. 175. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 178.

David I. Bruck, by appointment of the Court, 510 U. S. 942, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was M. Anne Pearce.

Richard A. Harpootlian argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were T. Travis Medlock, Attorney General of South Carolina, and Donald J. Zelenka, Chief Deputy Attorney General.*

*A brief of amici curiae urging affirmance was filed for the State of Idaho et al. by Larry EchoHawk, Attorney General of Idaho, and Lynn E. Thomas, Solicitor General, Grant Woods, Attorney General of Arizona, Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General of California, John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney of Connecticut, Roland Burris, Attorney General of Illi-


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