Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 13 (1994)

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Opinion of Blackmun, J.

swer about petitioner's parole eligibility even when it was requested.


The State and its amici contend that petitioner was not entitled to an instruction informing the jury that petitioner is ineligible for parole because such information is inherently misleading.6 Essentially, they argue that because future exigencies such as legislative reform, commutation, clemency, and escape might allow petitioner to be released into society, petitioner was not entitled to inform the jury that he is parole ineligible. Insofar as this argument is targeted at the specific wording of the instruction petitioner requested, the argument is misplaced. Petitioner's requested instruction ("If . . . you recommend that [the defendant] be sentenced to life imprisonment, he actually will be sentenced to imprisonment in the state penitentiary for the balance of his natural life," App. 162) was proposed only after the trial court ruled that South Carolina law prohibited a plain-language instruction that petitioner was ineligible for parole under state law. To the extent that the State opposes even a simple parole-ineligibility instruction because of hypothetical future developments, the argument has little force. Respondent admits that an instruction informing the jury that petitioner is ineligible for parole is legally accurate. Certainly, such an instruction is more accurate than no instruction at all, which leaves the jury to speculate whether "life imprisonment" means life without parole or something else.

The State's asserted accuracy concerns are further undermined by the fact that a large majority of States which pro-6 In this regard, the State emphasizes that no statute prohibits petitioner's eventual release into society. While this technically may be true, state regulations unambiguously prohibit work-release and virtually all other furloughs for inmates who are ineligible for parole. See App. 16. As for pardons, the statute itself provides that they are available only in "the most extraordinary circumstances." S. C. Code Ann. 24-21-950D (1989).

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