Jones v. United States, 527 U.S. 373 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 97-9361. Argued February 22, 1999—Decided June 21, 1999

Petitioner was sentenced to death for the crime of kidnaping resulting in the victim's death. Petitioner's sentence was imposed pursuant to the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, 18 U. S. C. 3591 et seq. At the sentencing hearing, the District Court instructed the jury and provided it with four decision forms on which to record its sentencing recommendation. The court refused petitioner's request to instruct the jury as to the consequences of jury deadlock. The jury unanimously recommended that petitioner be sentenced to death. The District Court imposed sentence in accordance with the jury's recommendation, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

132 F. 3d 232, affirmed.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III-B, concluding:

1. The Eighth Amendment does not require that a jury be instructed as to the consequences of their failure to agree. Pp. 379-384.

(a) As petitioner argues, the Federal Death Penalty Act requires judge sentencing when the jury, after retiring for deliberations, reports itself as unable to reach a unanimous verdict. In such a case, the sentencing duty falls upon the District Court pursuant to 18 U. S. C. 3594. Pp. 379-381.

(b) The Eighth Amendment, however, does not require that a jury be instructed as to the consequences of a breakdown in the deliberative process. Such an instruction has no bearing on the jury's role in the sentencing process. Moreover, the jury system's very object is to secure unanimity, and the Government has a strong interest in having the jury express the conscience of the community on the ultimate life or death question. A charge of the sort petitioner suggests might well undermine this strong governmental interest. In addition, Congress chose not to require such an instruction be given. The Court declines to invoke its supervisory powers over the federal courts and require that such an instruction be given in every capital case in these circumstances. Pp. 381-384.

2. There is no reasonable likelihood that the jury was led to believe that petitioner would receive a court-imposed sentence less than life


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