Booth v. Maryland

LOCATION: United States Tax Court

DOCKET NO.: 86-5020
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Maryland Court of Appeals

CITATION: 482 US 496 (1987)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1987

Charles O. Monk, II, - Argued the cause for the respondent
George E. Burns, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

John Booth was convicted of the murders of an elderly couple and chose to have the jury determine his sentence instead of the judge. A Maryland statute required that a victim impact statement "describing the effect of the crime on the victim and his family" be included in the pre-sentence report in felony cases. In this case, the victim impact statement described the victims, the impact of the crime on their family, and the family members' opinions of the defendant and the crime.


Does the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects a defendant from cruel and unusual punishment, prohibit a jury from considering a victim impact statement during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial?

Media for Booth v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1987 in Booth v. Maryland

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments this afternoon in No. 86-5020, John Booth against Maryland.

You may proceed whenever you're ready, Mr. Burns.

George E. Burns, Jr.:

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

The issue in this case is whether the State of Maryland may constitutionally execute a defendant based on a public opinion poll.

This Court has repeatedly... most recently in this term in California versus Brown... said there are two relevant considerations in a capital sentencing.

First, the defendant's background.

Obviously that's not at issue in victim impact statements.

The second thing are the circumstances of the crime.

The circumstances of the crime, of course, in a normal way are also not involved.

There's no contention that the victims who testified were at the crime scene, were involved with the crime, but that the crime was instituted against them as opposed to the actual victims.

The State, however, argues that this is still part of the circumstances of the crime.

The argument really comes down to no more than saying,

"If I cast a pebble into the ocean, the ripples just go on forever. "

The problem with that, I think, is not only has it never been used as a basis for criminal sentencing, it's probably not even a good basis for tort law.

The implications are simply staggering, because I think it's fair to say that each and every one of us is offended by violent crime.

That being the case, there's no reason every citizen who is offended by this shouldn't come in and express that view.

Indeed, we might have an 800 number linked up to the courtroom.

People could call in.

More specifically, lawyers and judges who are involved in these cases are certainly offended by the facts that they have to deal with, the crime that they have to deal with.

It would seem that it would be fair to call them in as also--

William H. Rehnquist:

What exactly was introduced in evidence here, Mr. Burns?

George E. Burns, Jr.:

--Here we have the testimony of, or the statements of the immediate family; that is, the mother... excuse me, son, daughter of the victims... the actual victims.

I use the victims in two words... two ways.

"Victims" obviously meaning the murder victims, victims as included in this case included those people, family members, who obviously were upset by the crime, as anyone would be, but were not present in any way at the crime, and at whom the crime was not actually aimed at.

So that was what we had in this case.

That is the complaint.

The State, in short--

Antonin Scalia:

You'd allow it to be introduced, I presume, if as one of the aggravating circumstances, it was shown that the victim was tortured to death in front of his wife or something like that, wouldn't you?

George E. Burns, Jr.:

--I think there are circumstances--

Antonin Scalia:

Then the fact that the wife was so much aggrieved by it you think would be relevant?