Baldwin v. Alabama

LOCATION: United States District Court House

DOCKET NO.: 84-5743
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Alabama

CITATION: 472 US 372 (1985)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1985

Edward E. Carnes - on behalf of Respondent
Edward Earl Carnes - on behalf of respondent
John L. Carroll - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Baldwin v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1985 in Baldwin v. Alabama

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Baldwin against Alabama.

Mr. Carroll, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

John L. Carroll:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Petitioner in this case, Brian Keith Baldwin, is an Alabama death row inmate who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death under the 1975 Alabama death penalty law that was the subject of this Court's opinion.

In Beck versus Alabama, this Court dealt with what came to be known as the lesser included offense provision, that is, the provision of this statute which forbade the jury from returning a verdict which would have comported with a lesser included offense.

Today we are before this Court to discuss the sentencing provisions of that particular statute.

By way of information, it would be helpful at this point in time to review exactly what the statute says on its face.

A jury, upon deciding that a defendant is guilty of capital murder, under this Alabama law is mandatorily required to sentence that defendant to death.

There is a mistrial provision which the State relied on in great measure to save the defect this Court identified in Beck, which allows a jury that cannot agree on a verdict of guilt to return a verdict of mistrial, and also allows a jury who cannot agree on a sentence of death to return a verdict of mistrial.

Once the jury has reached this decision that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of capital murder, it mandatorily sentences that defendant to death.

The trial then holds a sentencing hearing, wherein he decides what the sentence ought to be.

And the statute specifically requires the trial judge to weigh, along with the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, this mandatorily imposed standardless jury sentence of death, and therein Petitioner contends lies the constitutional flaw with the Alabama sentencing scheme.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Mr. Carroll, has the scheme been changed since that in effect at the time this all took place?

John L. Carroll:

It has, Justice Blackmun.

The scheme no longer exists and has not been utilized by the State of Alabama since 1980.

Following the decision of this Court in Beck v. Alabama, the Supreme Court of Alabama rewrote this law in a case called Beck versus the State.

What the rewritten law says is that there are now lesser included offenses in capital trials under the Beck procedure, that the sentencing authority is the jury, that the jury hears evidence of aggravation and mitigation separate and apart from its decision on the issue of guilt.

And then, should the jury return a verdict of death in a case, that verdict is then again reviewed by the trial judge.

If the jury returns a verdict of life imprisonment without parole, that is the sentence which is imposed.

So the State of Alabama rewrote the procedure to comport essentially with Georgia and Florida, and then in 1981 the Alabama legislature enacted an entirely new death penalty scheme, again which incorporated in the main the procedures of Florida and Georgia.

Again, the guilt-innocence determination is separate from the punishment determination, and it is a statute in line with the decisions of this Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Let me back up a little bit.

When the jury is considering the sentencing only, the punishment, what are the options?

John L. Carroll:

The options that the jury has are, they may, if they find that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of capital murder, then they must mandatorily sentence the defendant to death.

Warren E. Burger:

In a separate proceeding?

John L. Carroll:

In the same proceeding, Mr. Chief Justice.

Now we're talking about the old law, the law that is before this Court.

The jury decides sentence and guilt in the same proceeding, and that was again one of the defects that this Court identified in Beck, although it did not specifically address the constitutionality of that provision.

That provision has since been changed by both the legislature and the Alabama Supreme Court to comport with the decisions which require guilt, innocence, and punishment to be determined in separate proceedings.

So Mr. Justice Blackmun is exactly correct; this procedure simply does not exist any more and has not been in existence since December of 1980, when the Alabama Supreme Court issued its opinion in Beck versus the State.