California v. Brown

PETITIONER: California
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 85-1563
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 479 US 538 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1986
DECIDED: Jan 27, 1987

Jay M. Bloom - on behalf of the petitioner
Monica Knox - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for California v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1986 in California v. Brown

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument now in Number 85-1563, California versus Brown.

Mr. Bloom, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Jay M. Bloom:

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

This is a death penalty case arising out of Riverside County, California, and it involves the giving of an instruction at the penalty phase of that trial.

Before getting into the instruction, I would like to lay out a little of the procedure, how the trial occurs in California.

The California death penalty process is a two-step process.

At the first step the jury determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant and determines the truthfulness of the special circumstances allegation.

The special circumstances allegation is used to narrow the category of first degree murderers who may receive the death penalty.

Once the jury determines the truthfulness of the special circumstances allegation, the case proceeds to the penalty phase where the jury may return a verdict of death or life without possibility of parole.

Now, in this case the evidence of the guilt phase showed that the defendant had raped and murdered a young, 15-year old girl and then called the parents to tell... called the mother to indicate she would never see her daughter alive again.

The jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of murder in the first degree and rape, and as a special finding found the murder was premeditated.

It also found as a special circumstance that the murder had occurred during commission of a rape.

At the penalty phase the defendant presented evidence of remorse of a prior rape and evidence of sexual dysfunction and evidence from his family.

The prosecution presented evidence of a prior rape.

The jury fixed the punishment at death, after hearing three instructions.

The first instruction is the one that is at issue before this Court, and basically it says, you must not be swayed by mere sentiment, conjecture, sympathy, passion, prejudice, public opinion or public feeling.

Both the people and the defendant have a right to expect that you will conscientiously consider and weigh the evidence and apply the law to the case, and that you will reach a just verdict regardless of what the consequences of such verdict may be.

The jury was also instructed that they were to take into account and be guided by various aggravating and mitigating factors contained in instruction known as 8.84.1> ["].

That laid out the various aggravating and mitigating factors and also indicated the jury could consider any other circumstance which extenuated the gravity of the offense, even though not a legal excuse for the crime.

The jury was finally instructed with Caljic 8.84.2 which indicated the jury could consider, take into account, and be guided by the applicable factors of aggravation and mitigation upon which it had been instructed.

The jury was then told, if the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, it shall impose the death penalty.

However, if the mitigating factors outweighed the aggravating factors, it was to impose a punishment of life without possibility of parole.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Bloom, where in the instructions was the jury told that it should consider mitigating evidence about the background and the character of the defendant?

Jay M. Bloom:

Well, it is our position, Your Honor, that Caljic 8.481 which deals with the various aggravating, mitigating factors, it discusses the jury is to consider the circumstances of the offense, prior violent conduct, any mental defects of the individual, and under the "K" section, any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the offense, even though not a legal excuse.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Did it say... was the instruction,

"any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime? "

Jay M. Bloom:


The exact language, Your Honor, was

"any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime. "

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And do you think that that makes it clear to the jury that they could consider evidence going to the background and character of the defendant?