Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 15 (1994)

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168

SIMMONS v. SOUTH CAROLINA

Opinion of Blackmun, J.

does here, on the proposition that California v. Ramos, 463 U. S. 992 (1983), held that such determinations are purely matters of state law.8

It is true that Ramos stands for the broad proposition that we generally will defer to a State's determination as to what a jury should and should not be told about sentencing. In a State in which parole is available, how the jury's knowledge of parole availability will affect the decision whether or not to impose the death penalty is speculative, and we shall not lightly second-guess a decision whether or not to inform a jury of information regarding parole. States reasonably may conclude that truthful information regarding the availability of commutation, pardon, and the like should be kept from the jury in order to provide "greater protection in [the States'] criminal justice system than the Federal Constitution requires." Id., at 1014. Concomitantly, nothing in the Constitution prohibits the prosecution from arguing any truthful information relating to parole or other forms of early release.

But if the State rests its case for imposing the death penalty at least in part on the premise that the defendant will

8 Only two States other than South Carolina have a life-without-parole sentencing alternative to capital punishment for some or all convicted murderers but refuse to inform sentencing juries of this fact. See Commonwealth v. Henry, 524 Pa. 135, 160, 569 A. 2d 929, 941 (1990), cert. denied, 499 U. S. 931 (1991); Commonwealth v. Strong, 522 Pa. 445, 458- 460, 563 A. 2d 479, 485-486 (1989); Eaton v. Commonwealth, 240 Va. 236, 248-249, 397 S. E. 2d 385, 392-393 (1990), cert. denied, 502 U. S. 824 (1991); O'Dell v. Commonwealth, 234 Va. 672, 701, 364 S. E. 2d 491, 507, cert. denied, 488 U. S. 871 (1988).

Justice Scalia points out that two additional States, Texas and North Carolina, traditionally have kept information about a capital defendant's parole ineligibility from the sentencing jury. See post, at 179. Neither of these States, however, has a life-without-parole sentencing alternative to capital punishment. It is also worthy of note that, pursuant to recently enacted legislation, North Carolina now requires trial courts to instruct capital sentencing juries concerning parole eligibility. See 1993 N. C. Sess. Laws, ch. 538, 29.

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