Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner murdered and robbed Roger Sarfaty in 1985. In 1986, he murdered and robbed Lloyd Thompson. Petitioner was tried separately for each murder. The Thompson trial occurred first, and an Oklahoma jury found petitioner guilty and sentenced him to death. Petitioner was then tried for the Sarfaty murder. A different Oklahoma jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. During the sentencing phase of the Sarfaty trial, the State introduced a copy of the judgment and sentence petitioner received for the Thompson murder. Petitioner contends that the admission of evidence regarding his prior death sentence undermined the Sarfaty jury's sense of responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the death penalty, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. We disagree and hold that the admission of this evidence did not amount to constitutional error.
In Oklahoma, capital trials are bifurcated into guilt and sentencing phases. Okla. Stat., Tit. 21, § 701.10 (1981). The
In attempting to establish these two aggravating circumstances, the State introduced evidence relating to the Thompson murder. The State presented testimony by Thompson's neighbor concerning her observations the day of the murder, Thompson's autopsy report, and photographs and fingerprints showing that the defendant in the Thompson case was in fact petitioner. The State also introduced a copy of the judgment and sentence from the Thompson murder conviction. That document revealed that petitioner had been convicted of first-degree murder and had been sentenced to death. App. 5-6. It also showed, and the trial court told the jury, that petitioner planned on appealing from the judgment and sentence. Id., at 7. Petitioner's counsel objected to the admission of the document. He argued that, regardless of the admissibility of the evidence of petitioner's conviction, the death sentence petitioner received was not proper for the jury to consider. The trial court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence. Petitioner later presented evidence in mitigation.
Before closing arguments, the trial court instructed the jury. It identified the four aggravating circumstances the State sought to establish and told the jury that "[i]n determining which sentence you may impose in this case, you may
The jury found that all four aggravating circumstances existed and that they outweighed the mitigating circumstances. It accordingly imposed a death sentence. Petitioner appealed. While his appeal in this case was pending, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned petitioner's conviction for the Thompson murder. See Romano v. Oklahoma, 827 P.2d 1335 (1992) (Romano I). The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held that petitioner's trial should have been severed from that of his codefendant; it therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial.
In his appeal in this case, petitioner argued, inter alia, that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his conviction and sentence for the Thompson murder. He asserted
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. 847 P.2d 368, 390 (1993) (Romano II). The Oklahoma court concluded that the evidence regarding petitioner's prior death sentence was irrelevant. Because the jury was properly instructed in this case, however, it could not be said "that the jury in any way shifted the responsibility for their decision or considered their decision any less significant than they would otherwise." Ibid. The Court of Criminal Appeals further held that the admission of the evidence "did not so infect the sentencing determination with unfairness as to make the determination to impose the death penalty a denial of due process." Id., at 391.
Petitioner sought our review, and we granted certiorari, limited to the following question: "Does admission of evidence that a capital defendant already has been sentenced to death in another case impermissibly undermine the sentencing jury's sense of responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant's death, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?" 510 U.S. 943 (1993). We now affirm.
It is helpful to begin by placing petitioner's challenge within the larger context of our Eighth Amendment death penalty jurisprudence. We have held that the Eighth Amendment's concern that the death penalty be both appropriate and not randomly imposed requires the States to perform two somewhat contradictory tasks in order to impose the death penalty.
First, States must properly establish a threshold below which the penalty cannot be imposed. McCleskey v. Kemp,
Second, States must ensure that "capital sentencing decisions rest on [an] individualized inquiry," under which the "character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense" are considered. McCleskey, supra, at 303 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U.S. 738, 748 (1990). To this end, "States cannot limit the sentencer's consideration of any relevant circumstance that could cause it to decline to impose the penalty. In this respect, the State cannot channel the sentencer's discretion, but must allow it to consider any relevant information offered by the defendant." McCleskey, supra, at 306.
Within these constitutional limits, "the States enjoy their traditional latitude to prescribe the method by which those who commit murder shall be punished." Blystone v. Pennsylvania, 494 U.S. 299, 309 (1990). This latitude extends to evidentiary rules at sentencing proceedings. See, e. g., Gregg, supra, at 203-204 (approving "the wide scope of evidence and argument allowed at presentence hearings"
See also id., at 1008 ("Once the jury finds that the defendant falls within the legislatively defined category of persons eligible for the death penalty . . . the jury then is free to consider a myriad of factors to determine whether death is the appropriate punishment").
We have also held, in Caldwell v. Mississippi, that the jury must not be misled regarding the role it plays in the sentencing decision. See 472 U. S., at 336 (plurality opinion); id., at 341-342 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). The prosecutor in Caldwell, in remarks which "were quite focused, unambiguous, and strong," misled the jury to believe that the responsibility for sentencing the defendant lay elsewhere. Id., at 340. The trial judge "not only failed to correct the prosecutor's remarks, but in fact openly agreed with them." Id., at 339.
The plurality concluded that the prosecutor's remarks, along with the trial judge's affirmation, impermissibly "minimize[d] the jury's sense of responsibility for determining the appropriateness of death." Id., at 341. Such a diminution, the plurality felt, precluded the jury from properly performing its responsibility to make an individualized determination of the appropriateness of the death penalty. Id., at 330— 331. Justice O'Connor, in her opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, identified more narrowly the infirmity in the prosecutor's remarks: "In my view, the
As Justice O'Connor supplied the fifth vote in Caldwell, and concurred on grounds narrower than those put forth by the plurality, her position is controlling. See Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977); Gregg, supra, at 169, n. 15. Accordingly, we have since read Caldwell as "relevant only to certain types of comment—those that mislead the jury as to its role in the sentencing process in a way that allows the jury to feel less responsible than it should for the sentencing decision." Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 184, n. 15 (1986). Thus, "[t]o establish a Caldwell violation, a defendant necessarily must show that the remarks to the jury improperly described the role assigned to the jury by local law." Dugger v. Adams, 489 U.S. 401, 407 (1989); see also Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U.S. 227, 233 (1990).
Petitioner argues that Caldwell controls this case. He contends that the evidence of his prior death sentence impermissibly undermined the sentencing jury's sense of responsibility, in violation of the principle established in Caldwell. We disagree. The infirmity identified in Caldwell is simply absent in this case: Here, the jury was not affirmatively misled regarding its role in the sentencing process. The evidence at issue was neither false at the time it was admitted, nor did it even pertain to the jury's role in the sentencing process. The trial court's instructions, moreover, emphasized the importance of the jury's role. As the Court of Criminal Appeals observed:
That this case is different from Caldwell only resolves part of petitioner's challenge. In addition to raising a "Caldwell " claim, petitioner presents a more general contention: He argues that because the evidence of his prior death sentence was inaccurate and irrelevant, the jury's consideration of it rendered his sentencing proceeding so unreliable that the proceeding violated the Eighth Amendment. See Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604 (1978) (plurality opinion); Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305 (1976). The Oklahoma court agreed that the "evidence of the imposition of the death penalty by another jury is not relevant in determining the appropriateness of the death sentence for the instant offense." Romano II, supra, at 391. That the evidence may have been irrelevant as a matter of state law, however, does not render its admission federal constitutional error. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991).
Some of the cases upon which petitioner relies for support, to be sure, do hold that the Constitution bars the introduction of certain evidence at sentencing proceedings. But these cases are plainly inapposite. Petitioner cites, for example, Dawson v. Delaware, 503 U.S. 159 (1992). There we held that the trial court erred by admitting evidence, at Dawson's capital sentencing proceeding, regarding Dawson's membership in a white racist prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood. See id., at 162-163. It was constitutional error, however, only because the admission violated "Dawson's First Amendment rights." Id., at 167. Dawson thus involved application of the principle first enunciated in Zant: An aggravating circumstance is invalid if "it authorizes a jury to draw adverse inferences from conduct that is
Petitioner also cites Johnson v. Mississippi, 486 U.S. 578 (1988), but it, too, is inapposite. There we reversed the imposition of Johnson's death sentence because the only evidence supporting an aggravating factor turned out to be invalid, and because the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to reweigh the remaining, untainted aggravating circumstances against the mitigating circumstances. Id., at 586, 590, n. 8. Similarly, in this case the only evidence supporting the "prior violent felony" aggravating circumstance was the judgment from petitioner's conviction for the Thompson murder. That evidence, like the evidence in Johnson, was rendered invalid by the reversal of petitioner's conviction on appeal.
Here, however, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals struck the "prior violent felony" aggravator, reweighed the three untainted aggravating circumstances against the mitigating circumstances, and still concluded that the death penalty was warranted. See Romano II, supra, at 389, 393— 394. The Court of Criminal Appeals' approach is perfectly consistent with our precedents, including Johnson, where we remanded without limiting the Mississippi Supreme Court's authority to reweigh the remaining aggravating circumstances against the mitigating circumstances. See 486 U. S., at 590; id., at 591 (White, J., concurring); see also Clemons, 494 U. S., at 744-750. Contrary to petitioner's assertion, Johnson does not stand for the proposition that the mere admission of irrelevant and prejudicial evidence requires the overturning of a death sentence.
Petitioner's argument, pared down, seems to be a request that we fashion general evidentiary rules, under the guise of interpreting the Eighth Amendment, which would govern
Petitioner finally argues that the introduction of the evidence in question violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is settled that this Clause applies to the sentencing phase of capital trials. See, e. g., Payne, supra, at 825; Clemons, supra, at 746 ("[C]apital sentencing proceedings must of course satisfy the dictates of the Due Process Clause").
We believe the proper analytical framework in which to consider this claim is found in Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 643 (1974). There we addressed a claim that remarks made by the prosecutor during his closing argument were so prejudicial as to violate the defendant's due process rights. We noted that the case was not one in which the State had denied a defendant the benefit of a specific constitutional right, such as the right to counsel, or in which the remarks so prejudiced a specific right as to amount to a denial of that right. Id., at 643. Accordingly, we sought to determine whether the prosecutor's remark "so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process." Ibid. We concluded, after an "examination of the entire proceedings," that the remarks did not amount to a denial of constitutional due process. Ibid.
The relevant question in this case, therefore, is whether the admission of evidence regarding petitioner's prior death sentence so infected the sentencing proceeding with unfairness as to render the jury's imposition of the death penalty a denial of due process. See Sawyer, 497 U. S., at 244 (observing that "[t]he Caldwell rule was . . . added to [Donnelly `s] existing guarantee of due process protection against
The evidence that petitioner received a death sentence for murdering Thompson was deemed irrelevant by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. See Romano II, 847 P. 2d, at 391. However, if the jurors followed the trial court's instructions, which we presume they did, see Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 206-207, 211 (1987), this evidence should have had little—if any—effect on their deliberations. Those instructions clearly and properly described the jurors' paramount role in determining petitioner's sentence, and they also explicitly limited the jurors' consideration of aggravating factors to the four which the State sought to prove. Regardless of the evidence as to petitioner's death sentence in the Thompson case, the jury had sufficient evidence to justify its conclusion that these four aggravating circumstances existed. Although one of the aggravating circumstances proved invalid when petitioner's conviction for the Thompson murder was overturned on appeal, the other three remained untainted and still outweighed the mitigating circumstances. See Romano II, supra, at 389, 393-394. In short, the instructions did not offer the jurors any means by which to give effect to the evidence of petitioner's sentence in the Thompson murder, and the other relevant evidence presented by the State was sufficient to justify the imposition of the death sentence in this case.
Even assuming that the jury disregarded the trial court's instructions and allowed the evidence of petitioner's prior
The judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is
Justice O'Connor, concurring.
The Court today, relying in part on my opinion in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 341 (1985), rejects petitioner's claim that the introduction of evidence of a prior death sentence impermissibly undermined the jury's sense of responsibility. I write separately to explain why in my view petitioner's Caldwell claim fails. The inaccuracy of the prosecutor's argument in Caldwell was essential to my conclusion that the argument was unconstitutional. See id. , at 342 ("[T]he prosecutor's remarks were impermissible because they were inaccurate and misleading in a manner that diminished the jury's sense of responsibility"). An accurate description of the jury's role—even one that lessened the jury's sense of responsibility—would have been constitutional. Ibid. ("[A] misleading picture of the jury's role is not sanctioned by [California v. Ramos, 463 U.S. 992 (1983),] [b]ut neither does Ramos suggest that the Federal Constitution prohibits the giving of accurate instructions regarding postsentencing procedures").
Accordingly, I believe that petitioner's Caldwell claim fails because the evidence here was accurate at the time it was
It may well have been better practice for the State to agree to accept petitioner's stipulation offer, or to excise the sentencing information before submitting the Judgment and Sentence form to the jury. But under our precedents, because this evidence was accurate, I do not believe its introduction violated the Constitution.
Justice Blackmun, dissenting.
I join Justice Ginsburg's dissent, which persuasively demonstrates why the admission of Romano's prior death sentence, like the prosecutor's arguments in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985), created an unacceptable risk of leading the jurors to minimize the importance of their roles. Even if this particular constitutional error were not present in this case, I would vacate Romano's death sentence and remand for resentencing in adherence to my view that the death penalty cannot be imposed fairly within the constraints of our Constitution. See Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141, 1143 (1994).
Justice Ginsburg, with whom Justice Blackmun, Justice Stevens, and Justice Souter join, dissenting.
In Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985), this Court overturned a capital sentence as inadequately reliable because of a statement made by the prosecutor, in closing argument at the penalty phase of the trial. The Caldwell prosecutor
The possibility the jury might have embraced the prosecutor's suggestion, the Court concluded, rendered the imposition of the death penalty inconsistent with the Constitution's requirement of individualized and reliable capital sentencing procedures. See id., at 323, 329-330, 340-341. Emphasizing the "`truly awesome responsibility' " imposed upon capital sentencing juries, id., at 329, quoting McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 208 (1971), the Court held:
In my view, this principle, reiterated throughout the Court's Caldwell opinion,
At the penalty phase of Romano's trial for the murder of Roger Sarfaty, the prosecution sought to put before the jury a copy of the "Judgment and Sentence" from an earlier and unrelated prosecution. That document revealed that Romano had been convicted of the first-degree murder of Lloyd Thompson and that he was to be executed for that crime. Defense counsel offered to stipulate to Romano's conviction for the Thompson murder, but objected to the jury's consideration of the death sentence. The trial court overruled defense counsel's objection and admitted the "Judgment and Sentence" document. That document stated that Romano had given "no good reason why [the] Judgment and Sentence [for the murder of Thompson] should not be pronounced," and commanded the State's Department of Corrections "to put the said JOHN JOSEPH ROMANO to death." App. 6. The jury in the instant, Sarfaty murder case also sentenced Romano to death.
During the pendency of Romano's appeal from his conviction and sentence for the Sarfaty murder, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals vacated his conviction for the Thompson murder. Romano v. State, 827 P.2d 1335 (1992). Romano urged on appeal in the Sarfaty case that, under Caldwell v. Mississippi, it was impermissible to place before the jury, as relevant to its deliberations whether Romano
The Oklahoma court rejected that contention and affirmed Romano's conviction and death sentence for the Sarfaty murder. 847 P.2d 368, 390 (Okla. Crim. App. 1993). In so ruling, the court acknowledged that "[l]earning that the defendant had previously received a death sentence for another murder could diminish the jury's sense of importance of its role and mitigate the consequences of [its] decision." Ibid. The court further recognized that "evidence of the imposition of the death penalty by another jury is not relevant in determining the appropriateness of the death sentence for the instant offense." Id., at 391. Nevertheless, the court concluded, "when the jury is properly instructed as to its role and responsibility in making such a determination we cannot, on appellate review, conclude that the jur[ors] in any way shifted the responsibility for their decision or considered their decision any less significant than they would otherwise." Id., at 390.
In Caldwell, this Court found constitutionally impermissible a prosecutor's statement, at the penalty phase of a capital trial, that the jury's decision was "not the final decision" because it was "automatically reviewable." The prosecutor's assurances were impermissible, the Court ruled, because they created an unacceptable risk that the jury would "minimize the importance of its role," "believ[ing] that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant's
The risk of diminished jury responsibility was also grave in Romano's case. Revealing to the jury that Romano was condemned to die for the Thompson murder signaled to the jurors in the Sarfaty murder case that Romano faced execution regardless of their life-or-death decision in the case before them. Jurors so informed might well believe that Romano's fate had been sealed by the previous jury, and thus was not fully their responsibility. See People v. Hope, 116 Ill.2d 265, 274, 508 N.E.2d 202, 206 (1986) ("`[T]he jury's awareness of defendant's prior death sentence would diminish its sense of responsibility . . . . Assuming that defendant was already going to be executed, the jurors may consider their own decision considerably less significant than they otherwise would.' "), quoting People v. Davis, 97 Ill.2d 1, 26, 452 N.E.2d 525, 537 (1983); West v. State, 463 So.2d 1048, 1052-1053 (Miss. 1985) ("[I]f the jury knows that the [defendant] is already under a sentence of death it would tend to relieve them of their separate responsibility to make that determination.").
A juror uncertain whether to vote for death or for life might be swayed by the knowledge that "`another jury had previously resolved the identical issue adversely to defendant.' " Hope, 116 Ill. 2d, at 274, 508 N. E. 2d, at 206, quoting Davis, 97 Ill. 2d, at 26, 452 N. E. 2d, at 537. Such a juror, although "unconvinced that death is the appropriate punishment, . . . might nevertheless wish to `send a message' of extreme disapproval for the defendant's acts," Caldwell, 472 U. S., at 331, reasoning that the defendant was already to be executed in any event. Furthermore, jurors otherwise inclined to hold out for a life sentence might acquiesce in a death penalty they did not truly believe warranted. Cf. id.,
Respondent State of Oklahoma correctly observes, however, that evidence of a prior death sentence may not produce a unidirectional bias toward death. Brief for Respondent 23. Some jurors, otherwise inclined to believe the defendant deserved the death penalty for the crime in the case before them, might nonetheless be anxious to avoid any feeling of responsibility for the defendant's execution. Jurors so minded might vote for a life sentence, relying on the prior jury's determination to secure defendant's death. See ante, at 14. The offending prosecutorial comments in Caldwell, by contrast, created an apparently unidirectional "bias toward a death sentence," for the appellate review that the Caldwell jurors were encouraged to consider could occur only if the jury sentenced the defendant to death, not if it voted for life. 472 U. S., at 331-332. Oklahoma maintains that Romano remains outside the Caldwell principle, because he is unable to demonstrate that the evidence of his prior death sentence tilted the jurors toward death.
Romano's prosecutor, at least, seems to have believed that informing the jurors of the prior death sentence would incline them toward death, for otherwise, he probably would not have insisted upon introducing the "Judgment and Sentence" itself, over Romano's objection, and despite Romano's offer to stipulate to the underlying conviction. Most critically, Caldwell, as I comprehend that decision, does not require Romano to prove that the prosecutor's hunch was correct, either in Romano's case in particular or in death penalty cases generally.
Caldwell dominantly concerns the capital sentencing jury's awareness and acceptance of its "`awesome responsibility.' " Id., at 341. To assure that acceptance, this Court's Eighth
The Court today reads Caldwell to apply only if the jury has been "affirmatively misled regarding its role in the sentencing process." Ante, at 9. According to the Court, because no information, incorrect when conveyed, was given to the jury responsible for sentencing Romano for Sarfaty's murder, "[t]he infirmity identified in Caldwell is simply absent in this case." Ibid.
The Court rests its rendition of Caldwell on the premise that only a plurality of the Court's Members endorsed the principle I regard as pivotal: Diminution of the jury's sense of responsibility "preclude[s] the jury from properly performing its [charge] to make an individualized determination of the appropriateness of the death penalty." See ante, at 8, citing Caldwell, 472 U. S., at 330-331, 341. In fact, however,
Justice O'Connor's opinion thus appears to rest on "grounds narrower" than those relied upon by the other Members of the Court's Caldwell majority, see ante, at 9, only insofar as her concurrence disavowed any implication that the "giving of accurate instructions regarding postsentencing procedures," 472 U. S., at 342, is irrelevant or unconstitutional. The evidence of Romano's death sentence for the murder of Thompson, however, was not information regarding postsentencing procedures Romano might pursue. Nor, as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals found, was the "Judgment and Sentence" for Thompson's murder relevant to the Sarfaty jury's sentencing decision. 847 P. 2d, at 391 ("evidence of the imposition of the death penalty by another jury is not relevant in determining the appropriateness
Finally, the Court relies, as did the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, on the trial court's instruction to the jurors that "`[t]he importance and worth of the evidence is for you to decide,' " together with the court's disavowal of any
Plainly, the trial court's instruction to consider the evidence cannot resolve the Caldwell problem in this case: The "Judgment and Sentence" form, bearing Romano's prior death sentence, was part of the evidence the jury was told to consider. Further, once it is acknowledged that evidence of the prior death sentence "could diminish the jury's sense of importance of its role and mitigate the consequences of [its] decision," 847 P. 2d, at 390, it cannot be said that the court or attorneys did not "conve[y] or intimat[e]" that the jury's role was diminished. The prosecution proffered the death-commanding "Judgment and Sentence" as evidence, and the trial court admitted it—over Romano's objection, and despite his offer to stipulate to the conviction. As discussed supra, at 18-21, admission of that evidence risked leading jurors to "minimize the importance of [their] role," "believ[ing] that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant's death rest[ed] elsewhere." Caldwell, 472 U. S., at 333, 329. This risk was "unacceptable in light of the ease with which [it] could have been minimized." Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. 28, 36 (1986) (opinion of White, J.).
Permitting the jury to consider evidence that Romano was already under sentence of death, while that jury determined whether Romano should live or die, threatened to "minimize the jury's sense of responsibility for determining the appropriateness of death." Unable to say that the jury's consideration of Romano's prior death sentence "had no effect on the [instant] sentencing decision," Caldwell, 472 U. S., at 341, I would vacate that decision and remand the case for a new sentencing hearing.
The Court also relies upon Dugger v. Adams, 489 U.S. 401, 407 (1989), and Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U.S. 227, 233 (1990). In Adams, the Court stated that "the merit of respondent's Caldwell claim is irrelevant to our disposition of the case." 489 U. S., at 408, n. 4. In Sawyer, the question the Court considered was not whether a Caldwell violation had occurred, but whether "Caldwell announced a new rule as defined by Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989)," i. e., whether Caldwell "was . . . dictated by prior precedent existing at the time the [habeas petitioner's] conviction became final." 497 U. S., at 229, 235.