Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 8 (1994)

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

Opinion of Blackmun, J.

ity violated the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.3 The South Carolina Supreme Court declined to reach the merits of petitioner's challenges. With one justice dissenting, it concluded that, regardless of whether a trial court's refusal to inform a sentencing jury about a defendant's parole ineligibility might be error under some circumstances, the instruction given to petitioner's jury "satisfie[d] in substance [petitioner's] request for a charge on parole ineligibility," and thus there was no reason to consider whether denial of such an instruction would be constitutional error in this case. 310 S. C. 439, 444, 427 S. E. 2d 175, 179 (1993). We granted certiorari, 510 U. S. 811 (1993).


The Due Process Clause does not allow the execution of a person "on the basis of information which he had no opportunity to deny or explain." Gardner v. Florida, 430 U. S. 349, 362 (1977). In this case, the jury reasonably may have believed that petitioner could be released on parole if he were not executed. To the extent this misunderstanding pervaded the jury's deliberations, it had the effect of creating a false choice between sentencing petitioner to death and sentencing him to a limited period of incarceration. This

3 Specifically, petitioner argued that under the Eighth Amendment his parole ineligibility was " 'mitigating' in the sense that [it] might serve 'as a basis for a sentence less than death,' " Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U. S. 1, 4-5 (1986), quoting Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586, 604 (1978) (plurality opinion), and that therefore he was entitled to inform the jury of his parole ineligibility. He also asserted that by withholding from the jury the fact that it had a life-without-parole sentencing alternative, the trial court impermissibly diminished the reliability of the jury's determination that death was the appropriate punishment. Cf. Beck v. Alabama, 447 U. S. 625 (1980). Finally, relying on the authority of Gardner v. Florida, 430 U. S. 349 (1977), petitioner argued that his due process right to rebut the State's argument that petitioner posed a future danger to society had been violated by the trial court's refusal to permit him to show that a noncapital sentence adequately could protect the public from any future acts of violence by him.


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