Caldwell v. Mississippi

RESPONDENT: Mississippi
LOCATION: Cleburne City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 83-6607
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Mississippi

CITATION: 472 US 320 (1985)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1985

E. Thomas Boyle - on behalf of the petitioner
William S. Boyd, III - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Caldwell v. Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1985 in Caldwell v. Mississippi

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Caldwell against Mississippi.

Mr. Boyle, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

E. Thomas Boyle:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, this case is here on certiorari to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

There are three issues that I would like to address in this appeal.

The first is whether or not the remarks by the prosecutor that the verdict, jury verdict is non-final and subject to appellate review constitutes constitutional error.

The second issue is whether or not there was a denial of Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in denying experts and a criminal investigator.

And thirdly, whether certain remarks by the prosecutor at the sentencing phase of the trial, wherein he alluded and compared this case with all the other capital cases that he had tried, whether or not that constitutes plain error which this Court should notice under the due process clause.

The facts with regard to the first issue are as follows.

Under Mississippi practice, the prosecutor has the right to open and close during summation.

During the rebuttal portion of his summation to the jury, he argued, your decision is not the final decision.

Your decision is reviewable.

Defense counsel immediately objected.

The court ruled on that objection and overruled it, stating that under the Mississippi death statute there was in fact mandatory review of decisions by the jury in a capital case, and instructed the prosecutor to make full expression of his argument.

The prosecutor proceeded to state to the jury that defense counsel had wrongfully insinuated that their decision was not final, and again repeated that it was subject to review.

William H. Rehnquist:

He did a little more than that, didn't he?

E. Thomas Boyle:


Warren E. Burger:

He said, in effect, if you render a verdict of guilty here and return that sentence, you will be the killers.

E. Thomas Boyle:

Yes, he did.

Your Honor, on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court with regard to this issue, assigned appellate counsel failed to set this forth in the claim of error statement which is required to be filed under Rule 6B of the rules of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Mississippi Supreme Court split four to four, with one judge disqualifying himself.

The court ruled... based its decision primarily on three grounds, first, that under this Court's decision in California against Ramos, that the states were free to determine what the jury would hear in this area, and felt that this was appropriate argument.

Secondly, they maintained that this was invited error by suggesting that imprisonment was for the rest of the petitioner's natural life, and thirdly, the court held that the issue was foreclosed by virtue of the failure of counsel to comply with Rule 6B.

Petitioner maintains that the remarks violated the due process clause and the Eighth Amendment first on the ground that those remarks were false and misleading to the jury.

The statute involved here, and it is set forth in the petitioner's brief at 6A of our appendix to that brief, on its face and as construed by that court, is a final determination.

It is the sole and exclusive function of the jury in the state of Mississippi to ascertain and determine the appropriate sentence in a capital case.

The argument here that they were not the final determiners of that sentence is simply false.

Moreover, it was false also in suggesting to the jury that someone else shared the responsibility which under that state statute is solely and exclusively theirs.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Boyle, in your view, would it be error or a violation of due process for a court to instruct a jury correctly and accurately concerning the existence and scope of appellate review?

E. Thomas Boyle:

It would not, Your Honor.

However, I respectfully submit to the Court that it would be a much different case for this Court to consider were it not for the fact that counsel here argued in addition to the review element the fact that it was a non-final judgment.