Harris v. Alabama, 513 U.S. 504 (1995)

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certiorari to the supreme court of alabama

No. 93-7659. Argued December 5, 1994—Decided February 22, 1995

Alabama law vests capital sentencing authority in the trial judge, but requires the judge to "consider" an advisory jury verdict. After convicting petitioner Harris of capital murder, the jury recommended that she be imprisoned for life without parole, but the trial judge sentenced her to death upon concluding that the statutory aggravating circumstance found and considered outweighed all of the mitigating circumstances. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, rejecting Harris' argument that the capital sentencing statute is unconstitutional because it does not specify the weight the judge must give to the jury's recommendation and thus permits the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: The Eighth Amendment does not require the State to define the weight the sentencing judge must give to an advisory jury verdict. Pp. 508-515. (a) Because the Constitution permits the trial judge, acting alone, to impose a capital sentence, see, e. g., Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S. 447, 465, it is not offended when a State further requires the judge to consider a jury recommendation and trusts the judge to give it the proper weight. Alabama's capital sentencing scheme is much like Florida's, except that a Florida sentencing judge is required to give the jury's recommendations "great weight," see Tedder v. State, 322 So. 2d 908, 910 (Fla.), while an Alabama judge is not. Although this Court has spoken favorably of the so-called Tedder standard, see, e. g., Spaziano, supra, at 465, it has also made clear that the hallmark of the analysis is not the particular weight a State chooses to place upon the jury's advice, but whether the scheme adequately channels the sentencer's discretion so as to prevent arbitrary results, see, e. g., 468 U. S., at 465. To impose the Tedder standard here would offend established principles governing the criteria to be considered by the sentencer, see, e. g., Franklin v. Lynaugh, 487 U. S. 164, 179, and would place within constitutional ambit micromanagement tasks that properly rest within the State's discretion to administer its criminal justice system. Pp. 508-511. (b) Harris' arguments for requiring that "great weight" be given to the jury's advice are unpersuasive. First, Alabama cases reversing death sentences for prejudicial errors committed before the advisory jury do not demonstrate that the jury's role is in fact determinative, but

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