Harris v. Alabama

LOCATION: Jefferson County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 93-7659
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Alabama

CITATION: 513 US 504 (1995)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1994
DECIDED: Feb 22, 1995

P. David Bjurberg - on behalf of the Respondent
Ruth Friedman - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Harris v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1994 in Harris v. Alabama

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 93-7659, Louise Harris v. Alabama.

Ms. Friedman, you may proceed.

Ruth Friedman:

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

Alabama's capital sentencing scheme provides fo two decision-makers to determine sentence, a jury and a judge.

The legislature and the courts of Alabama have always said that the jury has a sentencing role to play.

The Alabama code addresses both jury and judge with provisions on how to determine sentence.

The legislature intended that

"juries play a major role in capital cases in Alabama. "

as the Alabama supreme court noted in its landmark decision in Beck v. State.

The court confirmed in Ex Parte Williams that tha role cannot count for nothing in Alabama's system, where the judge is the ultimate sentencing authority, following the jury's completion of its significant part.

In Johnson v. State, the Court of Criminal Appeals said that an Alabama capital jury must be death qualified precisely because it plays a

"key role in the sentencing process. "

and despite the State's suggestion to the contrary in its brief, a trial court's rejection of a jury's advisory verdict is always understood and referred to in the case law as an override of that verdict.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, that certainly isn't technically correct, is it?

I mean, because no one claimed the jury has final authority in the event the judge didn't act.

Ruth Friedman:

That's correct, the jury does not have final authority--

William H. Rehnquist:

So it's not like Florida.

Ruth Friedman:

--It is like Florida.

The Alabama supreme court has said consistently, actually, that Alabama is virtually identical to Florida in that it is a dual sentencing State.

It does not have... the jury does not have final sentencing authority, but it is a constituent sentencer, as this Court has recognized in Espinosa that in Florida the jury is a constituent sentencer and Alabama has said that our system is virtually identical to that.

And the Alabama courts have said repeatedly that the jury verdict and the capital sentencing jury has a very significant role to play, and that can be discerned from both the statutory provisions and the case law in Alabama.

The statutory provisions are addressed in 13A-5-46, for example, to the capital sentencing jury, on how it is to determine sentence, and that includes the weighing and consideration of aggravation in mitigation, the returning of a verdict only under certain circumstances... that is, when seven, at least 7 jurors vote that death is... life is the appropriate punishment, or 10 that death is the appropriate punishment, and if those numbers aren't reached, a new panel must be empaneled because that verdict would not have been reached by the first sentencer.

The State's attempt in this case to transform the life without parole recommendation of this constituent sentencer into a fact in mitigation is inconsistent, thus, with the history and the logic of Alabama's capital sentencing scheme.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

On the facts of this case, can you tell me, for the four defendants were there four different juries?

Ruth Friedman:

That's correct.

Well, actually, one of the defendants, the codefendant in this case, pleaded guilty in exchange for his testimony.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

All right.

In the jury... was it Sockwell--

Ruth Friedman:


Anthony M. Kennedy:

--was the trigger man?