Weeks v. Angelone, 528 U.S. 225 (2000)

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

No. 99-5746. Argued December 6, 1999—Decided January 19, 2000

After a Virginia jury found petitioner Weeks guilty of capital murder, the prosecution sought to prove two aggravating circumstances in the penalty phase, and the defense presented 10 witnesses in mitigation. During deliberations, the jurors sent the trial judge a note asking whether, if they believed Weeks guilty of at least one of the aggravating circumstances, it was their duty to issue the death penalty, or whether they must decide whether to issue the death penalty or a life sentence. The judge responded by directing them to a paragraph in their instructions stating: " 'If you find from the evidence that the Commonwealth has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, either of the two [aggravating circumstances], and as to that alternative, you are unanimous, then you may fix the punishment . . . at death, or if you believe from all the evidence that the death penalty is not justified, then you shall fix the punishment . . . at [life] imprisonment.' " Over two hours later, the jury returned its verdict, which read: "[H]aving unanimously found that [Weeks'] conduct in committing the offense [satisfied one of the aggravating circumstances], and having considered the evidence in mitigation . . . , [we] unanimously fix his punishment at death." The jurors were polled and all responded affirmatively that the foregoing was their verdict. In his direct appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, Weeks' assignment of error respecting the judge's answering the jury's question about mitigating circumstances was number 44. That court affirmed Weeks' conviction and sentence on direct appeal and later dismissed his state habeas petition. The Federal District Court denied him federal habeas relief, and the Fourth Circuit denied a certificate of appealability and dismissed his petition.


1. The Constitution is not violated when a trial judge directs a capital jury's attention to a specific paragraph of a constitutionally sufficient instruction in response to a question regarding the proper consideration of mitigating evidence. Weeks misplaces his reliance on Bollenbach v. United States, 326 U. S. 607, 611, and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U. S. 104, 114, both of which are inapposite in this case. Here, the trial judge gave precisely the same Virginia capital instruction that was upheld in


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