Boyde v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: Naval Base San Diego

DOCKET NO.: 88-6613
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 494 US 370 (1990)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1989
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1990

Dennis A. Fischer - on behalf of the Petitioner, (appointed by this Court)
Frederick R. Millar, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Boyde v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1989 in Boyde v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 88-6613, Richard Boyde versus California.

We'll wait just a moment, Mr. Fischer.

Very well, Mr. Fischer, you may proceed.

Dennis A. Fischer:

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

This case involves two issues of constitutional dimension concerning two aspects of California's 1978 death penalty initiative, which have since been corrected in measures adopted by the committee that controls the giving of instructions in state trial courts throughout California in 1983 and 1985, respectively, following decisions by the California Supreme Court disapproving of those instructions.

Petitioner Richard Boyde was found guilty by a Riverside Superior Court jury of murder with two special circumstance allegations being found true.

Because the prosecutor had announced his intention to seek the death penalty before trial commenced and the jury was examined and death qualified, the trial proceeded into a penalty phase that, before the same jurors, that was directed and governed by the statutory provisions at issue in this case.

The prosecutor presented evidence in aggravation that covered and tracked factors A, B and C of the eleven factors listed in Penal Code Section 190.3, and set forth in the jury instruction that is before the Court in this case, concerning both the crime itself, prior felony convictions on the part of the Defendant, and past activity of a... criminal activity of a forcible or violent nature.

Some of the evidence that he presented, the California Supreme Court subsequently determined had been improperly presented, because it did not relate to the statutory aggravating factors.

The defense then began its case, and presented testimony from Richard Boyde's mother, from two of his sisters, his stepfather, his wife, Brenda Dickson Green, his former girlfriend and mother of his child, and Mrs. Dickson, Mrs. Green's mother.

Together, they presented a wide variety of evidence about the character and background of Richard Boyde that was not immediately related to the circumstances of the underlying crime, but did provide a basis for the jury, in Justice Powell's words in McCleskey versus Kemp, to decline to impose the death penalty.

Petitioner's evidence, in fact, was remarkable in its comparison and similarity to cases previously before this Court, beginning with Lockett and Evans, and Eddings, and that, and the... in showing that this defendant did not deserve to be sentenced to death, a point, indeed, that has not been questioned in Respondent's submission to this Court.

That evidence consisted of the following aspects.

First, his impoverished childhood and difficult upbringing, including the fact that he had been fatherless and was obsessed with that fact, and obsessed with his father's abandonment.

This is evidence very close to that recognized in Hitchcock versus Dugger, as being appropriate evidence to bring before the jury on the question of whether the defendant deserved the death penalty.

His considerable health problems as a child, and his psychological difficulties that affected his performance at school, and which the family attempted unsuccessfully to obtain counseling assistance for, but was unable to do so.

Besides Hitchcock, this factor is recognized in Mills versus Maryland's footnote 1, and is similar to other cases as well.

Third, his fondness and affection toward children, his kindness to family members.

Justice O'Connor has spoken, in Franklin versus Lynaugh, in a concurrence in observing that evidence of kindness to others might demonstrate positive character traits that might mitigate against the death penalty.

Fourth, his sisters' testimony that he liked dancing, that he wanted to pursue it as a career, but that his stepfather, being a stern gentleman, trying to do his best, but frowned on it and discouraged young Richard from pursuing it.

And that testimony was followed by Mrs. Green's testimony that when Richard was incarcerated that he won a prize for his dance choreography while he was in custody.

As in Skipper versus South Carolina, this certainly is a showing that the defendant could lead a useful life, at least behind bars.

And finally, his futile attempts to find employment after his release, attempts that he conducted in earnest, but was unsuccessful because of his record.

Although these factors are basic to the concern of individualized sentencing, which this Court explicated in Woodings versus North Carolina, many subsequent cases, Petitioner's jury could not give effect to them, because this evidence was nowhere on the list of eleven factors set forth in Penal Code Section 190.3, and guided by the jury instructions which the jury was directed to consider and give effect to as the basis for its determination of whether the defendant should receive death or life imprisonment without parole.

The, as--

William H. Rehnquist:

You're referring now to the so-called factor (k) instruction?

Dennis A. Fischer:

--The factor (k) instruction, the instruction which directed the jury to crime related circumstances that extenuated the gravity of the crime, such as the seriousness--

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, I don't see why the jury couldn't consider that.

I mean, extenuate typically means lessen or excuse.

Why wouldn't that evidence be thought by the jury to lessen or excuse the gravity of the crime?