Enmund v. Florida

LOCATION: Kersey Farm

DOCKET NO.: 81-5321
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 458 US 782 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1982
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1982
GRANTED: Oct 19, 1981

James S. Liebman - on behalf of the Petitioner
Lawrence A. Kaden - on behalf of the Respondent (Pro hac vice)

Facts of the case

Earl Enmund and two codefendants were found guilty of the felony murder and robbery of Thomas and Eunice Kersey, an elderly couple. Enmund was the getaway driver, who waited in the car during the robbery, did not participate in the killing and had no idea anyone would be killed. Enmund argued that the evidence did not show any intent to kill, so the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment. Despite this, the jury sentenced him to death along with his codefendants. The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed the conviction.


(1) Is death an unconstitutionally excessive and disproportionate penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for one who did not take a life, attempt to take a life, nor intend to take a life?

(2) Was petitioner's degree of participation in the killings given inadequate consideration by the Florida courts?

Media for Enmund v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1982 in Enmund v. Florida

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Enmund against Florida.

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

James S. Liebman:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, Petitioner, Earl Enmund, has been sentenced by the state of Florida to be executed for the crime of murder.

Now, two factual determinations of the Florida Supreme Court surrounding Mr. Enmund's actual involvement in that crime are critical here, and I would like to take a moment to summarize those findings.

First, the Florida Supreme Court determined that Earl Enmund did not himself take life.

Rather, it determined that Sampson Armstrong, Mr. Enmund's confederate in a robbery, killed both of the victims, that is, Mr. Thomas Kersey and Mrs. Eunice Kersey, in an exchange of gunfire that was initiated by Mrs. Kersey.

The Florida Supreme Court determined that during these events and during the robbery, Petitioner was not on the scene but was 200 yards away in the get-away car.

More importantly, the Florida Supreme Court secondly expressly determined that the killings committed by Sampson Armstrong were not intended or contemplated as a part of the robbery scheme with which Mr. Enmund had associated himself and had helped plan.

Rather, the Florida Supreme Court, in its own words, determined that those killings by Sampson Armstrong

"were spontaneous and were precipitated by the armed resistance of Mrs. Kersey. "

again, at a time when Earl Enmund was 200 yards away, and was not at all able to take any part in that spontaneous decision by Sampson Armstrong to return Mrs. Kersey's fire.

Does the record show whether when they entered... embarked on this enterprise, Enmund was aware that his friend had a gun?

James S. Liebman:

No, Your Honor.

The evidence on the gun is... on the guns is extremely confused.

In fact, the prosecutor told the jury both in the opening argument and in the closing argument that it was not going to be able to tell them anything about the guns or even how many guns there were.

They didn't know that.

Now, all we know is that Sampson Armstrong had a gun and Mrs. Kersey had a gun.

Beyond that--

On the ballistics tests, how many different guns were indicated?

James S. Liebman:

--Two, at least two.

There were some bullets that they did not trace to either gun, but they couldn't tell whether they were from those guns or others.

They just couldn't do a ballistics test.

And how many people involved in the enterprise?

James S. Liebman:

Well, that is unclear also, but there were at least Sampson Armstrong, Jeanette Armstrong and Earl Enmund, and possibly Ida Jean Shaw, and then there was Mr. and Mrs. Kersey at the scene.

One other fact that I should mention is that Sampson Armstrong told J.B. Neil, his friend, who testified at trial against Sampson, that both Sampson and Jeanette Armstrong had guns.

Is there a reasonable inference that there were three different firearms involved here?

James S. Liebman:

Well, there's a reasonable inference that there were at least two.

I think the state's statement to the jury that it couldn't--

I thought you just said that there were two that they could identify and one they couldn't identify.

That makes three.