Justice O'Connor, delivered the opinion of the Court.
Alabama law vests capital sentencing authority in the trial judge, but requires the judge to consider an advisory jury verdict. We granted certiorari to consider petitioner's argument that Alabama's capital sentencing statute is unconstitutional because it does not specify the weight the judge must give to the jury's recommendation and thus permits arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.
A defendant convicted of capital murder in Alabama is entitled to a sentencing hearing before the trial jury, Ala. Code § 13A-5-46 (1994), unless jury participation is waived by both parties and approved by the court, § 13A-5-44. The State must prove statutory aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt and must disprove, by a preponderance of the evidence, any mitigating circumstance the defendant may proffer. § 13A-5-45(g). The jury then renders an advisory verdict. If it finds that aggravating factors, if any, outweigh mitigating circumstances, then the jury recommends death; otherwise, the verdict is life imprisonment without parole. § 13A-5-46(e). The jury may recommend death only if 10 jurors so agree, while a verdict of life imprisonment requires a simple majority. § 13A-5-46(f). The recommendation and vote tally are reported to the judge.
The judge then must consider all available evidence and file a written statement detailing the defendant's crime, listing specific aggravating and mitigating factors, and imposing a sentence. Section 13A-5-47(e) provides:
If the defendant is sentenced to death, his conviction and sentence are automatically reviewed by an appellate court and, if affirmed, a writ of certiorari is granted by the Alabama Supreme Court as a matter of right. In addition to reviewing the record for errors, the appellate courts must
Petitioner Louise Harris was married to the victim, a deputy sheriff, and was also having an affair with Lorenzo McCarter. She asked McCarter to find someone to kill her husband, and McCarter to that end approached a co-worker, who refused and reported the solicitation to his supervisor. McCarter then found willing accomplices in Michael Sockwell and Alex Hood, who were paid $100 and given a vague promise of more money upon performance. On the appointed night, as her husband left for work on the night shift, Harris called McCarter on his beeper to alert him. McCarter and Hood sat in a car parked on a nearby street, and Sockwell hid in the bushes next to a stop sign. As the victim stopped his car at the intersection, Sockwell sprang forth and shot him, point blank, with a shotgun. Harris was arrested after questioning, and McCarter agreed to bear witness to the conspiracy in exchange for the prosecutor's promise not to seek the death penalty. McCarter testified that Harris had asked him to kill her husband so they could share in his death benefits, which totaled about $250,000.
The jury convicted Harris of capital murder. At the sentencing hearing, a number of witnesses attested to her good background and strong character. She was rearing seven children, held three jobs simultaneously, and participated actively in her church. The jury recommended, by a 7 to 5 vote, that she be imprisoned for life without parole. The trial judge then considered her sentence, finding the existence of one aggravating circumstance, that the murder was committed for pecuniary gain, and one statutory mitigator, that Harris had no prior criminal record. The trial judge also found as nonstatutory mitigating circumstances that Harris was a hardworking, respected member of her church and community. Noting that Harris had planned the crime
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Harris' conviction and sentence. 632 So.2d 503 (1992). It noted that Alabama's death penalty statute is based on Florida's sentencing scheme, which we have held to be constitutional, see Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 457-467 (1984); Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 252 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). One difference is that jury recommendations are to be given "great weight" by the sentencing judge in Florida, see Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (Fla. 1975), whereas Alabama only requires the judge to "consider" the advisory verdict. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Harris' contention that Florida's so-called Tedder standard is constitutionally required, however. 632 So. 2d, at 538. As the statute prescribes, the court then reviewed the record for prejudicial errors and independently weighed the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Finding no errors and concluding that death was the proper sentence, the court affirmed. Id., at 542— 543. The Alabama Supreme Court also affirmed, discussing an unrelated claim. 632 So.2d 543 (1993). We granted certiorari. 512 U.S. 1234 (1994).
Alabama's capital sentencing scheme is much like that of Florida. Both require jury participation in the sentencing process but give ultimate sentencing authority to the
The two States differ in one important respect. The Florida Supreme Court has opined that the trial judge must give "great weight" to the jury's recommendation and may not override the advisory verdict of lifeunless "the facts suggesting a sentence of death [are] so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ." Tedder v. State, supra, at 910. The same deference inures to a jury recommendation of death. See Grossman v. State, 525 So.2d 833, 839, n. 1 (Fla. 1988) (collecting cases). The Alabama capital sentencing statute, by contrast, requires only that the judge "consider" the jury's recommendation, and Alabama courts have refused to read the Tedder standard into the statute. See Ex parte Jones, 456 So.2d 380, 382-383 (Ala. 1984). This distinction between the Alabama and Florida schemes forms the controversy in this case—whether the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution requires the sentencing judge to ascribe any particular weight to the verdict of an advisory jury.
We have held Florida's capital sentencing statute to be constitutional. See Proffitt v. Florida, supra; Spaziano v. Florida, supra. In Spaziano, we addressed the specific question whether Florida could, consistent with the Constitution, vest sentencing authority in the judge and relegate the jury to an advisory role. While acknowledging that sentencing
Asserting that the death penalty serves no function in "rehabilitation," "incapacitation," or "deterren[ce]," Justice Stevens argues that a jury "should bear the responsibility to express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death in particular cases." Post, at 517, 518 (internal quotation marks omitted). What purpose is served by capital punishment and how a State should implement its capital punishment scheme—to the extent that those questions involve only policy issues—are matters over which we, as judges, have no jurisdiction. Our power of judicial review legitimately extends only to determine whether the policy choices of the community, expressed through its legislative enactments, comport with the Constitution. As we have noted elsewhere, "while we have an obligation to insure that constitutional bounds are not overreached, we may not act as judges as we might as legislators." Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 174-175 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.).
In various opinions on the Florida statute we have spoken favorably of the deference that a judge must accord the jury verdict under Florida law. While rejecting an ex post facto challenge in Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 294 (1977), we noted the "crucial protection" provided by the standard of Tedder v. State, supra, at 910. In the same fashion, in
These statements of approbation, however, do not mean that the Tedder standard is constitutionally required. As we stated in Spaziano immediately following the passage quoted above: "Our responsibility, however, is not to secondguess the deference accorded the jury's recommendation in a particular case, but to ensure that the result of the process is not arbitrary or discriminatory." 468 U. S., at 465. We thus made clear that, our praise for Tedder notwithstanding, the hallmark of the analysis is not the particular weight a State chooses to place upon the jury's advice, but whether the scheme adequately channels the sentencer's discretion so as to prevent arbitrary results. See also Proffitt, 428 U. S., at 252-253 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.).
Consistent with established constitutional law, Alabama has chosen to guide the sentencing decision by requiring the jury and judge to weigh aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Harris does not challenge this legislative choice. And she objects to neither the vesting of sentencing authority in the judge nor the requirement that the advisory verdict be considered in the process. What she seeks instead is a constitutional mandate as to how that verdict should be considered; relying on Florida's standard, she suggests that the judge must give "great weight" to the jury's advice.
Harris argues that, under Alabama law, the verdict is more than advisory and that the jury in fact enjoys the key sentencing role, subject only to review by the judge. For support, she points to Alabama cases reversing death sentences where prejudicial errors were committed before the advisory jury. See Ex parte Williams, 556 So.2d 744, 745 (Ala. 1987). Unless the jury played a key role, so goes the argument, reversal would not be warranted because the sentencing judge was not exposed to the same harmful error. The flaw in this contention is that reversal is proper so long as the jury recommendation plays a role in the judge's decision, not necessarily a determinative one. If the judge must consider the jury verdict in sentencing a capital defendant, as the statute plainly requires, then it follows that a sentence is invalid if the recommendation upon which it partially rests was rendered erroneously. In Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992), the advisory jury, but not the sentencing
We have observed in the Florida context that permitting the trial judge to reject the jury's advisory verdict may afford capital defendants "a second chance for life with the trial judge," Dobbert, 432 U. S., at 296. In practice, however, Alabama's sentencing scheme has yielded some ostensibly surprising statistics. According to the Alabama Prison Project, there have been only 5 cases in which the judge rejected an advisory verdict of death, compared to 47 instances where the judge imposed a death sentence over a jury recommendation of life. Statistics compiled by the Alabama Prison Project (Nov. 29, 1994) (lodged with the Clerk of this Court). But these numbers do not tell the whole story. We do not know, for instance, how many cases in which a jury recommendation of life imprisonment is adopted would have ended differently had the judge not been required to consider the jury's advice. Without such a subjective look into the minds of the decisionmakers, the deceptively objective numbers afford at best an incomplete picture. Even assuming that these statistics reflect a true view of capital sentencing in Alabama, they say little about
Harris draws our attention to apparent disparities in the weight given to jury verdicts in different cases in Alabama. For example, the trial judge here did not specify his reason for rejecting the jury's advice but in another case wrote that he accorded "great weight" to the recommendation, State v. Coral, No. CC-88-741 (Montgomery Cty., June 26, 1992), Alabama Capital Sentencing Orders, p. 72 (lodged with the Clerk of this Court). In rejecting the jury verdict, other judges have commented variously that there was a "reasonable basis" to do so, State v. Parker, No. CC-88-105 (Colbert Cty., Dec. 3, 1991), Alabama Capital Sentencing Orders, at 408, that the verdict was "unquestionably a bizarre result," Ex parte Hays, 518 So.2d 768, 777 (Ala. 1986), or that "if this were not a proper case for the death penalty to be imposed, a proper case can scarcely be imagined," State v. Frazier, No. CC-85-3291 (Mobile Cty., July 31, 1990), Alabama Capital Sentencing Orders, at 139. Juxtaposing these statements, Harris argues that the Alabama statute permits judges to reject arbitrarily the advisory verdict, thereby abusing their sentencing discretion.
But these statements do not indicate that the judges have divergent understandings of the statutory requirement that the jury verdicts be considered; they simply illustrate how different judges have "considered" the jury's advice. There is no reason to expect that the advisory verdicts will be treated uniformly in every case. The Alabama statute provides that the weighing process "shall not be defined to mean
The Constitution permits the trial judge, acting alone, to impose a capital sentence. It is thus not offended when a State further requires the sentencing judge to consider a jury's recommendation and trusts the judge to give it the proper weight. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Alabama Supreme Court.
It is so ordered.
Justice Stevens, dissenting.
Alabama's capital sentencing statute is unique. In Alabama, unlike any other State in the Union, the trial judge has unbridled discretion to sentence the defendant to death—even though a jury has determined that death is an inappropriate penalty, and even though no basis exists for believing that any other reasonable, properly instructed jury would impose a death sentence. Even if I accepted the reasoning of Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 457-465 (1984), which I do not, see id., at 467 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), I would conclude that the complete
Our opinions have repeatedly emphasized that death is a fundamentally different kind of penalty from any other that society may impose.
These legislative decisions reflect the same judgment expressed in England in 1953 after a 4-year study by the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment:
In ordinary, noncapital sentencing decisions, judges consider society's interests in rehabilitating the offender, in incapacitating him from committing offenses in the future, and in deterring others from committing similar offenses. In capital sentencing decisions, however, rehabilitation plays no role; incapacitation is largely irrelevant, at least when the alternative of life imprisonment without possibility of parole is available;
The Constitution does not permit judges to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused without her consent. The same reasons that underlie that prohibition apply to life-ordeath sentencing decisions. The Framers of our Constitution "knew from history and experience that it was necessary to protect . . . against judges too responsive to the voice of higher authority." Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S.145, 156 (1968). As we explained in Duncan:
In my opinion, total reliance on judges to pronounce sentences of death is constitutionally unacceptable. See Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 708 (1990) (Stevens, J., dissenting). While the addition of an advisory jury may ameliorate concerns about judicial sentencing in some cases, more often that addition makes the scheme much worse, especially when, as in Alabama, the jury's verdict carries no necessary weight.
If Alabama's statute expressly provided for a death sentence upon a verdict by either the jury or the judge, I have no doubt it would violate the Constitution's command that no defendant "be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." U. S. Const., Amdt. 5; cf. Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U. S.
5; The 430, 444-446 (1981). Alabama scheme has the same practical effect. As the Court recognizes, ante, at 513, Alabama trial judges almost always adopt jury verdicts recommending death; a prosecutor who wins before the jury can be confident that the defendant will receive a death sentence. A prosecutor who loses before the jury gets a second, fresh opportunity to secure a death sentence. She may present the judge with exactly the same evidence and arguments
Not surprisingly, given the political pressures they face, judges are far more likely than juries to impose the death penalty. This has long been the case,
Death sentences imposed by judges over contrary jury verdicts do more than countermand the community's judgment: They express contempt for that judgment. Judicial overrides undermine the jury system's central tenet that "sharing in the administration of justice is a phase of civic responsibility." Thiel v. Southern Pacific Co., 328 U.S. 217, 227 (1946) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting). Overrides also sacrifice the legitimacy of jury verdicts, at potentially great cost. Whereas the public presumes that a death sentence imposed by a jury reflects the community's judgment that death is the appropriate response to the defendant's crime, the same presumption does not attach to a lone government
If the Court correctly held in Spaziano that the Constitution's concerns with regularity and fairness do not bar judges from imposing death sentences over contrary jury verdicts, one would at least expect the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to require that such schemes maintain strict standards to regularize and constrain the judge's discretion. The Court today refuses to impose any standard, holding that to do so would be "micro management." Ante, at 512. But this case involves far more than a mundane administrative detail.
Alabama stands alone among the States in its refusal to constrain its judges' power to condemn defendants over contrary jury verdicts. The Florida statute upheld in Spaziano, as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, requires the prosecutor to satisfy a more stringent standard before the judge than before the jury, prohibiting a judicial override unless the facts supporting the death sentence are "so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ." Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (1975). If that standard is satisfied, a judge may rationally presume that the jury's verdict did not fairly reflect the judgment of the community. Delaware and Indiana impose similar requirements for overrides. See Pennell v. State, 604 A.2d 1368, 1377-1378 (Del. 1992); Martinez-Chavez v. State, 534 N.E.2d 731, 735 (Ind. 1989).
We have repeatedly cited the Tedder standard with approval, suggesting that the Constitution requires such a constraint on a jury override provision. See Spaziano, 468 U. S., at 465; Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U. S., at 294-295; Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 252 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). Today the Court dismisses those statements. After Justice Blackmun stated in his opinion for the Court in Spaziano that "[w]e are satisfied that the Florida Supreme Court takes [Tedder] seriously
I would follow those suggestions and recognize Tedder as a constitutional imperative. As I have explained, an unfettered judicial override of a jury verdict for life imprisonment cannot be taken to represent the judgment of the community. A penalty that fails to reflect the community's judgment that death is the appropriate sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under our reasoning in Gregg. Remarkably, the Court attempts to bolster its holding by citing our reversal of a Florida death sentence for error before the advisory jury. Ante, at 512-513, citing Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992). The Court forgets that the difference between Florida and Alabama is precisely what is at stake in this case. The Constitution compelled Espinosa for the
In reaching its result the Court also fails to consider our longstanding principle that the Eighth Amendment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). The Spaziano Court held that the rejection of capital jury sentencing by all but seven States, and of capital jury overrides by all but (at that time) three, did not demonstrate an "evolving standard" disfavoring overrides. Spaziano , 468 U. S., at 463-464. Surely, however, the rejection of standardless overrides by every State in the Union but Alabama is a different matter. Cf. Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782, 789-793 (1982).
The Court today casts a cloud over the legitimacy of our capital sentencing jurisprudence. The most credible justification for the death penalty is its expression of the community's outrage. To permit the State to execute a woman in spite of the community's considered judgment that she should not die is to sever the death penalty from its only legitimate mooring. The absence of any rudder on a judge's free-floating power to negate the community's will, in my judgment, renders Alabama's capital sentencing scheme fundamentally unfair and results in cruel and unusual punishment. I therefore respectfully dissent.