Blystone v. Pennsylvania

RESPONDENT: Pennsylvania
LOCATION: Michigan State Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 88-6222
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

CITATION: 494 US 299 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1989
DECIDED: Feb 28, 1990

Ernest D. Preate, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
Paul R. Gettleman - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Blystone v. Pennsylvania

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1989 in Blystone v. Pennsylvania

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 28, 1990 in Blystone v. Pennsylvania

William H. Rehnquist:

And the second case is Blystone against Pennsylvania, and the petitioner in this case was convicted of robbery and first degree murder by a Pennsylvania jury and sentenced to death.

The Pennsylvania death penalty statute provides that in such cases a sentence of death must be imposed if a jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances.

The jury in this case found one aggravating factor, that the killing was committed during the course of a felony, but found no mitigating factors.

It accordingly sentenced the petitioner to death.

On appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, this conviction and sentence was upheld.

We granted certiorari.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we hold that the Pennsylvania death penalty statute in petitioner’s sentence under it is consistent with our decisions in interpreting the Eight Amendment of the United States Constitution.

We have previously decided that state laws which impose the death penalty solely because of a particular crime committed, for example, murder committed by an inmate serving a life sentence are invalid because they do not allow for any consideration of the particular circumstances of the offense or of the defendant.

Petitioner claims that the Pennsylvania statute is similarly mandatory in character because if the jury finds aggravating circumstances but no mitigating circumstances, it must impose the death penalty.

We reject this contention.

Pennsylvania allows the jury to consider both aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances regarding the nature of the offense in the character of the defendant.

The Eight Amendment imposes no further requirement that the jury be left totally free to find in favor of a life sentence even though it found aggravating circumstances but no mitigating ones.

So, we affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall has joined and in which Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens have joined except for part 4.