JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner Monty Lee Eddings was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Because this sentence was imposed without "the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors . . . required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in capital cases," Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 606 (1978) (opinion of BURGER, C. J.), we reverse.
On April 4, 1977, Eddings, a 16-year-old youth, and several younger companions ran away from their Missouri homes. They traveled in a car owned by Eddings' brother, and drove
Because Eddings was a juvenile, the State moved to have him certified to stand trial as an adult. Finding that there was prosecutive merit to the complaint and that Eddings was not amenable to rehabilitation within the juvenile system, the trial court granted the motion. The ruling was affirmed on appeal. In re M. E., 584 P.2d 1340 (Okla. Crim. App.), cert. denied sub nom. Eddings v. Oklahoma, 436 U.S. 921 (1978). Eddings was then charged with murder in the first degree, and the District Court of Creek County found him guilty upon his plea of nolo contendere.
The Oklahoma death penalty statute provides in pertinent part:
Section 701.12 lists seven separate aggravating circumstances; the statute nowhere defines what is meant by "any mitigating circumstances."
At the sentencing hearing, the State alleged three of the aggravating circumstances enumerated in the statute: that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, that the crime was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing
In mitigation, Eddings presented substantial evidence at the hearing of his troubled youth. The testimony of his supervising Juvenile Officer indicated that Eddings had been raised without proper guidance. His parents were divorced when he was 5 years old, and until he was 14 Eddings lived with his mother without rules or supervision. App. 109. There is the suggestion that Eddings' mother was an alcoholic and possibly a prostitute. Id., at 110-111. By the time Eddings was 14 he no longer could be controlled, and his mother sent him to live with his father. But neither could the father control the boy. Attempts to reason and talk gave way to physical punishment. The Juvenile Officer testified that Eddings was frightened and bitter, that his father overreacted and used excessive physical punishment: "Mr. Eddings found the only thing that he thought was effectful with the boy was actual punishment, or physical violence — hitting with a strap or something like this."
Testimony from other witnesses indicated that Eddings was emotionally disturbed in general and at the time of the crime, and that his mental and emotional development were at a level several years below his age. Id., at 134, 149, and 173. A state psychologist stated that Eddings had a sociopathic or antisocial personality and that approximately 30% of youths suffering from such a disorder grew out of it as they aged. Id., at 137 and 139. A sociologist specializing in juvenile offenders testified that Eddings was treatable. Id., at 149. A psychiatrist testified that Eddings could be rehabilitated by intensive therapy over a 15- to 20-year period.
At the conclusion of all the evidence, the trial judge weighed the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. He found that the State had proved each of the three alleged aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the sentence of death. 616 P.2d 1159 (1980). It found that each of the aggravating circumstances alleged by the State had been present.
In Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, writing for the plurality, stated the rule that we apply today:
Recognizing "that the imposition of death by public authority is . . . profoundly different from all other penalties," the plurality held that the sentencer must be free to give "independent mitigating weight to aspects of the defendant's character and record and to circumstances of the offense proffered in mitigation . . . ." Id., at 605. Because the Ohio death penalty statute only permitted consideration of three mitigating circumstances, the Court found the statute to be invalid.
As THE CHIEF JUSTICE explained, the rule in Lockett is the product of a considerable history reflecting the law's effort to develop a system of capital punishment at once consistent and principled but also humane and sensible to the uniqueness of the individual. Since the early days of the common law, the legal system has struggled to accommodate these twin objectives. Thus, the common law began by treating all criminal homicides as capital offenses, with a
Beginning with Furman, the Court has attempted to provide standards for a constitutional death penalty that would serve both goals of measured, consistent application and fairness to the accused. Thus, in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), the principal opinion held that the danger of an arbitrary and capricious death penalty could be met "by a carefully drafted statute that ensures that the sentencing authority is given adequate information and guidance." Id., at 195. By its requirement that the jury find one of the aggravating circumstances listed in the death penalty statute, and by its direction to the jury to consider "any mitigating circumstances," the Georgia statute properly confined and directed the jury's attention to the circumstances of the particular crime and to "the characteristics of the person who committed the crime . . . ." Id., at 197.
Similarly, in Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976), the plurality held that mandatory death sentencing was not a permissible response to the problem of arbitrary
Thus, the rule in Lockett followed from the earlier decisions of the Court and from the Court's insistence that capital punishment be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all. By requiring that the sentencer be permitted to focus "on the characteristics of the person who committed the crime," Gregg v. Georgia, supra, at 197, the rule in Lockett recognizes that "justice . . . requires . . . that there be taken into account the circumstances of the offense together with the character and propensities of the offender." Pennsylvania v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51, 55 (1937). By holding that the sentencer in capital cases must be permitted to consider any relevant mitigating factor, the rule in Lockett recognizes that a consistency produced by ignoring individual differences is a false consistency.
We now apply the rule in Lockett to the circumstances of this case. The trial judge stated that "in following the law,"
The Court of Criminal Appeals took the same approach. It found that the evidence in mitigation was not relevant because it did not tend to provide a legal excuse from criminal responsibility. Thus the court conceded that Eddings had a "personality disorder," but cast this evidence aside on the basis that "he knew the difference between right and wrong. . . and that is the test of criminal responsibility." 616 P. 2d, at 1170. Similarly, the evidence of Eddings' family history was "useful in explaining" his behavior, but it did not "excuse" the behaviour. From these statements it appears that the Court of Criminal Appeals also considered only that evidence to be mitigating which would tend to support a legal excuse from criminal liability.
We find that the limitations placed by these courts upon the mitigating evidence they would consider violated the rule in Lockett.
Nor do we doubt that the evidence Eddings offered was relevant mitigating evidence. Eddings was a youth of 16 years at the time of the murder. Evidence of a difficult family history and of emotional disturbance is typically introduced by defendants in mitigation. See McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 187-188, 193 (1971). In some cases, such evidence properly may be given little weight. But when the defendant was 16 years old at the time of the offense there can be no doubt that evidence of a turbulent family history, of beatings by a harsh father, and of severe emotional disturbance is particularly relevant.
The trial judge recognized that youth must be considered a relevant mitigating factor. But youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage.
Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult. In this case, Eddings was not a normal 16-year-old; he had been deprived of the care, concern, and paternal attention that children deserve. On the contrary, it is not disputed that he was a juvenile with serious emotional problems, and had been raised in a neglectful, sometimes even violent, family background. In addition, there was testimony that Eddings' mental and emotional development were at a level several years below his chronological age. All of this does not suggest an absence of responsibility for the crime of murder, deliberately committed in this case. Rather, it is to say that just as the chronological age of a minor is itself a relevant mitigating factor of great weight, so must the background and mental and emotional development of a youthful defendant be duly considered in sentencing.
We are not unaware of the extent to which minors engage increasingly in violent crime.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion without, however, departing from my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227 (1976) (dissenting opinion).
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.
I write separately to address more fully the reasons why this case must be remanded in light of Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), which requires the trial court to consider and weigh all of the mitigating evidence concerning the petitioner's family background and personal history.
Because sentences of death are "qualitatively different" from prison sentences, Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305 (1976) (opinion of Stewart, POWELL, and
In order to ensure that the death penalty was not erroneously imposed, the Lockett plurality concluded that "the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer, in all but the rarest kind of capital case, not be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Id., at 604 (emphasis in original) (footnote omitted).
In the present case, of course, the relevant Oklahoma statute permits the defendant to present evidence of any mitigating circumstance. See Okla. Stat., Tit. 21, § 701.10 (1980). Nonetheless, in sentencing the petitioner (which occurred about one month before Lockett was decided), the judge remarked that he could not "in following the law . . . consider
I disagree with the suggestion in the dissent that remanding this case may serve no useful purpose. Even though the petitioner had an opportunity to present evidence in mitigation of the crime, it appears that the trial judge believed that he could not consider some of the mitigating evidence in imposing sentence. In any event, we may not speculate as to whether the trial judge and the Court of Criminal Appeals actually considered all of the mitigating factors and found them insufficient to offset the aggravating circumstances, or whether the difference between this Court's opinion and the trial court's treatment of the petitioner's evidence is "purely a matter of semantics," as suggested by the dissent. Woodson and Lockett require us to remove any legitimate basis for finding ambiguity concerning the factors actually considered by the trial court.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE may be correct in concluding that the Court's opinion reflects a decision by some Justices that they would not have imposed the death penalty in this case had they sat as the trial judge. See post, at 127. I, however, do not read the Court's opinion either as altering this Court's opinions establishing the constitutionality of the death penalty or as deciding the issue of whether the Constitution permits imposition of the death penalty on an individual who committed a murder at age 16. Rather, by listing in detail some of the circumstances surrounding the petitioner's life, the Court has sought to emphasize the variety of mitigating information that may not have been considered by the trial court in deciding whether to impose the death penalty or some lesser sentence.
It is important at the outset to remember — as the Court does not — the narrow question on which we granted certiorari. We took care to limit our consideration to whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the imposition of a death sentence on an offender because he was 16 years old in 1977 at the time he committed the offense; review of all other questions raised in the petition for certiorari was denied. 450 U.S. 1040 (1981). Yet the Court today goes beyond the issue on which review was sought — and granted — to decide the case on a point raised for the first time in petitioner's brief to this Court. This claim was neither presented to the Oklahoma courts nor presented to this Court in the petition for certiorari.
In Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), we considered whether Ohio violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by sentencing Lockett to death under a statute that "narrowly limit[ed] the sentencer's discretion to consider the
We held in Lockett that the "Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer . . . not be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Id., at 604 (emphasis in original). We therefore found the Ohio statute flawed, because
In contrast to the Ohio statute at issue in Lockett, the Oklahoma death penalty statute provides:
The statute further provides that
This provision, of course, instructs the sentencer to weigh the mitigating evidence introduced by a defendant against the aggravating circumstances proved by the State.
The Oklahoma statute thus contains provisions virtually identical to those cited with approval in Lockett, as examples of proper legislation which highlighted the Ohio statute's "constitutional infirmities." 438 U. S., at 606-607. Indeed, the Court does not contend that the Oklahoma sentencing
In its attempt to make out a violation of Lockett, the Court relies entirely on a single sentence of the trial court's opinion delivered from the bench at the close of the sentencing hearing. After discussing the aggravated nature of petitioner's offense, and noting that he had "given very serious consideration to the youth of the Defendant when this particular crime was committed," the trial judge said that he could not
From this statement, the Court concludes "it is clear that the trial judge did not evaluate the evidence in mitigation and find it wanting as a matter of fact, rather he found that as a matter of law he was unable even to consider the evidence." Ante, at 113. This is simply not a correct characterization of the sentencing judge's action.
In its parsing of the trial court's oral statement, the Court ignores the fact that the judge was delivering his opinion extemporaneously from the bench, and could not be expected to frame each utterance with the specificity and precision that might be expected of a written opinion or statute. Extemporaneous courtroom statements are not often models of clarity. Nor does the Court give any weight to the fact that the trial court had spent considerable time listening to the testimony of a probation officer and various mental health professionals who described Eddings' personality and family history — an obviously meaningless exercise if, as the Court asserts, the judge believed he was barred "as a matter of law" from "considering" their testimony. Yet even examined in isolation, the trial court's statement is at best ambiguous;
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals independently examined the evidence of "aggravating" and "mitigating" factors presented at Eddings' sentencing hearing. 616 P.2d 1159 (1980). After reviewing the testimony concerning Eddings' personality and family background, and after referring to the trial court's discussion of mitigating circumstances, it stated that while Eddings' "family history is useful in explaining why he behaved the way he did, . . . it does not excuse his behavior." Id., at 1170 (emphasis added). From this the Court concludes that "the Court of Criminal Appeals also considered only that evidence to be mitigating which would tend to support a legal excuse from criminal liability." Ante, at 113.
To be sure, neither the Court of Criminal Appeals nor the trial court labeled Eddings' family background and personality disturbance as "mitigating factors." It is plain to me, however, that this was purely a matter of semantics associated with the rational belief that "evidence in mitigation" must rise to a certain level of persuasiveness before it can be said to constitute a "mitigating circumstance." In contrast, the Court seems to require that any potentially mitigating evidence be described as a "mitigating factor" — regardless of its weight; the insubstantiality of the evidence is simply to be a factor in the process of weighing the evidence against aggravating circumstances. Yet if this is all the Court's opinion stands for, it provides scant support for the result reached. For it is clearly the choice of the Oklahoma courts — a choice not inconsistent with Lockett or any other decision of this Court — to accord relatively little weight to Eddings' family background and emotional problems as balanced against the circumstances of his crime and his potential for future dangerousness.
It can never be less than the most painful of our duties to pass on capital cases, and the more so in a case such as this one. However, there comes a time in every case when a court must "bite the bullet."
Whether the Court's remand will serve any useful purpose remains to be seen, for petitioner has already been given an opportunity to introduce whatever evidence he considered relevant to the sentencing determination. Two Oklahoma courts have weighed that evidence and found it insufficient to offset the aggravating circumstances shown by the State. The Court's opinion makes clear that some Justices who join it would not have imposed the death penalty had they sat as the sentencing authority, see, e. g., ante, at 115-116. Indeed,
Because the sentencing proceedings in this case were in no sense inconsistent with Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), I would decide the sole issue on which we granted certiorari, and affirm the judgment.
Although Eddings' petition for certiorari did not expressly present the Lockett issue, his brief in this Court argued it, and the State responded to the argument. Brief for Petitioner 64-67; Brief for Respondent 55-57. The dissenting opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE, post, at 120, n. 1, states that the courts below were not afforded the opportunity to consider this issue. The fact is, however, that in his petition to the Court of Criminal Appeals for a rehearing, Eddings specifically presented the issue and at some considerable length. See Petition for Re-Hearing and Supporting Brief in No. C-78-325, p. 10 ("This Court, by its interpretation of mitigating circumstances, has effectively limited the scope of mitigation and that limitation renders the Oklahoma death penalty statute unconstitutional"). The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the petition, stating that it had given it full consideration and had been "fully advised in the premises." See Rule 1.18, Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals (1980) (court will entertain new arguments upon a petition for rehearing). Cf. Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 476 (1975). See also Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261, 265, n. 5 (1981); Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 631, n. 6 (1980); Vachon v. New Hampshire, 414 U.S. 478, 479, n. 3 (1974).
"Even if one considers that the conflict-of-interest question was not technically raised below, there is ample support for a remand required in the interests of justice. See 28 U. S. C. § 2106 (authorizing this Court to `require such further proceedings to be had as may be just under the circumstances')."
Because the trial court's failure to consider all of the mitigating evidence risks erroneous imposition of the death sentence, in plain violation of Lockett, it is our duty to remand this case for resentencing.
Indeed, Dr. Dietsche, who testified that Eddings had a "sociopathic or antisocial personality," see ante, at 107, estimated that 91% "of your criminal element" would test as sociopathic or antisocial. App. 136. Dr. Dietsche defined "antisocial personalities" as individuals without "the usual type of companions" or "loyalties," who are "[f]requently . . . selfish, . . . very impulsive," showing "little in the line of responsibility" or concern "for the needs or wants of others," and "hav[ing] little in the line of guilt or remorse." Id., at 137-138. Although the Court describes Dietsche's testimony as indicating that "approximately 30% of youths suffering from such a disorder grew out of it as they aged," ante, at 107, Dietsche was in fact describing a study which he thought had subsequently been discredited. App. 139-141. Even that study, however, concluded that most of those who "grew out of" the disorder by the age of 35 or 40 were "more of a con-artist type" and "not . . . the assaultive type." Ibid. A more recent study estimated that only 20% of sociopathic persons were "treatable," id., at 141; in this study, only 9 of 255 initial participants were successfully treated, after "literally . . . thousands of hours of therapy." Id., at 142. Thus, characterization of Eddings as a "sociopath" may connote little more than that he is egocentric, concerned only with his own desires and unremorseful, has a propensity for criminal conduct, and is unlikely to respond well to conventional psychiatric treatment — hardly significant "mitigating" factors. See Blocker v. United States, 110 U. S. App. D. C. 41, 48-49, and nn. 11, 12, 288 F.2d 853, 860-861, and nn. 11, 12 (1961) (Burger, J., concurring in result). While the Court speaks of Eddings' "severe emotional disturbance," ante, at 115; see also ante, at 116, it appears to be referring primarily to the testimony that Eddings was a sociopath, and to Dr. Gagliano's rather fantastic speculation concerning Eddings' dissociation at the time of the crime, see n. 4, supra. The Court's opinion exemplifies the proposition that the very occurrence of the crime functions as a powerful impetus to search for a theory to explain it. See Szasz, Psychiatry, Ethics, and the Criminal Law, 58 Colum. L. Rev. 183, 190-191 (1958).