Loving v. United States, 517 U.S. 748, 8 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 748 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

President, make the fundamental policy determination respecting the factors that warrant the death penalty.


A preliminary question in this case is whether the Constitution requires the aggravating factors that Loving challenges. The Government does not contest the application of our death penalty jurisprudence to courts-martial, at least in the context of a conviction under Article 118 for murder committed in peacetime within the United States, and we shall assume that Furman and the case law resulting from it are applicable to the crime and sentence in question. Cf. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U. S. 86 (1958) (analyzing court-martial punishments under the Eighth Amendment). The Eighth Amendment requires, among other things, that "a capital sentencing scheme must 'genuinely narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty and must reasonably justify the imposition of a more severe sentence on the defendant compared to others found guilty of murder.' " Lowenfield v. Phelps, 484 U. S. 231, 244 (1988) (quoting Zant v. Stephens, 462 U. S. 862, 877 (1983)). Some schemes accomplish that narrowing by requiring that the sentencer find at least one aggravating circumstance. 484 U. S., at 244. The narrowing may also be achieved, however, in the definition of the capital offense, in which circumstance the requirement that the sentencer "find the existence of an aggravating circumstance in addition is no part of the constitutionally required narrowing process." Id., at 246.

Although the Government suggests the contrary, Brief for United States 11, n. 6, we agree with Loving, on the assumption that Furman applies to this case, that aggravating factors are necessary to the constitutional validity of the military capital punishment scheme as now enacted. Article 118 authorizes the death penalty for but two of the four types of murder specified: premeditated and felony murder are punishable by death, 10 U. S. C. 918(1), (4), whereas


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