LOCATION: Kenosha County Courthouse
DOCKET NO.: 91-1160
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 507 US 463 (1993)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1992
DECIDED: Mar 30, 1993
Clifford Gardner - on behalf of the Respondent
Lynn E. Thomas - on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Arave v. CreechAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1992 in Arave v. Creech
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 30, 1993 in Arave v. Creech
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the court in No. 91-1160, Arave against Creech will be announced by Justice O'Connor.
Sandra Day O'Connor:
This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals by the Ninth Circuit.
Respondent Thomas Creech entered a plea of guilty to first degree murder for the 1981 beating death of a fellow prison inmate.
The State Trial Court sentenced respondent to death.
Based in part on the statutory aggravating circumstance that by the murder or circumstances surrounding its commission, the defendant exhibited utter disregard for human life.
The Idaho Supreme Court rejected the respondent's argument that the utter disregard circumstance is unconstitutionally vague.
It reaffirm the limiting construction it previously had announced in the State case of State against Osborn.
That limiting construction provides in part that the phrase "utter disregard" refers to acts of circumstances surrounding the crime which exhibit the highest, the utmost callous disregard for human life, that is the cold-blooded pitiless slayer.
Respondent filed that federal habeas petition.
The District Court denied relief but the Court of Appeals agreed with respondent that the utter disregard circumstance as narrowed by the State's Osborn case is invalid.
For reasons explained in an opinion dfile with the Clerk today, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.
The Osborn construction adequately channels the sentencers discretion with clear and objective standards.
The phrase "cold-blooded pitiless slayer" in its everyday meaning describes a person who kills without feeling or sympathy.
It describes the defendant's state of mind which is a fact that can be inferred from the surrounding circumstances.
The Osborn construction also genuinely narrows the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty because the class of murders eligible to receive capital punishment in Idaho is large and a sentencer reasonably could find that not all are cold-blooded.
We do not reach respondent's alternative argument that the utter disregard circumstance although constitutional, cannot be constitutionally applied to him, because under another holding of the Court of Appeals which is not before us today, the respondent is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Stevens has joined.