Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 12 (1994)

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

Opinion of Blackmun, J.

nounced in Gardner was reaffirmed in Skipper, and it compels our decision today. See also Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 683, 690 (1986) (due process entitles a defendant to " 'a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense' ") (citation omitted); Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U. S. 68, 83-87 (1985) (where the State presents psychiatric evidence of a defendant's future dangerousness at a capital sentencing proceeding, due process entitles an indigent defendant to the assistance of a psychiatrist for the development of his defense).

Like the defendants in Skipper and Gardner, petitioner was prevented from rebutting information that the sentencing authority considered, and upon which it may have relied, in imposing the sentence of death. The State raised the specter of petitioner's future dangerousness generally, but then thwarted all efforts by petitioner to demonstrate that, contrary to the prosecutor's intimations, he never would be released on parole and thus, in his view, would not pose a future danger to society.5 The logic and effectiveness of petitioner's argument naturally depended on the fact that he was legally ineligible for parole and thus would remain in prison if afforded a life sentence. Petitioner's efforts to focus the jury's attention on the question whether, in prison, he would be a future danger were futile, as he repeatedly was denied any opportunity to inform the jury that he never would be released on parole. The jury was left to speculate about petitioner's parole eligibility when evaluating petitioner's future dangerousness, and was denied a straight an-5 Of course, the fact that a defendant is parole ineligible does not prevent the State from arguing that the defendant poses a future danger. The State is free to argue that the defendant will pose a danger to others in prison and that executing him is the only means of eliminating the threat to the safety of other inmates or prison staff. But the State may not mislead the jury by concealing accurate information about the defendant's parole ineligibility. The Due Process Clause will not tolerate placing a capital defendant in a straitjacket by barring him from rebutting the prosecution's arguments of future dangerousness with the fact that he is ineligible for parole under state law.


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