McKoy v. North Carolina

RESPONDENT: North Carolina
LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 88-5909
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: North Carolina Supreme Court

CITATION: 494 US 433 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1989
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1990

Joan Herre Byers - on behalf of the Respondent
Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for McKoy v. North Carolina

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1989 in McKoy v. North Carolina

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 88-5909, Dock McKoy, Jr. v. North Carolina.

Mr. Hunter.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

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

This case is before the Court on certiorari for the Supreme Court of North Carolina to review the Supreme Court of North Carolina's decision affirming Dock McKoy's death sentence.

This case is about the penalty phase instructions in that trial, and whether those instructions violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

At the penalty phase trial in that case, the court instructed the jury that it must be unanimous to find a mitigating circumstance, and that if the jury was not unanimous on a particular circumstance it should answer that issue no.

Further, the court offered no instruction to the jury at the penalty phase urging them to try to agree if there were any disagreements, initial disagreements, about a mitigating circumstance.

Thus, the question that divided this Court in Mills is not present here.

The state concedes, and the North Carolina Supreme Court held, that the instructions in this case would require 12 jurors to find mitigation, but only one to reject it.

North Carolina, after Mills, is the only jurisdiction in the United States where this method of finding and excluding mitigation is still allowed.

In Mills this Court applied a well established rule.

Antonin Scalia:

Excuse me, what... what do you mean is still allowed?

Did some states previously use this method?

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

Well, Maryland previously used this method, and--

Antonin Scalia:

Well, maybe, right.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

--I think they were the only ones.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Hunter, is it your position that the Constitution requires the state to prove lack of mitigating circumstances?

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

No, Your Honor.

No, it is not.

It is simply our position that it is unconstitutional to allow one juror to preclude the rest of the jurors from considering mitigating circumstances at... at the penalty, at the final sentencing stage.

William H. Rehnquist:

But you do feel that the state may say to the defendant, you bear the burden as to the existence of mitigating circumstances?

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

I, frankly, I don't know the answer to that question, Your Honor.

I know this Court is considering that question.

We're... there is a burden of proof in North Carolina on the defendant.

It is a preponderance of the evidence which we have not contested in this case.

William H. Rehnquist:

So you don't... you don't disagree with, at least in your position here, that North Carolina may place the burden of proof on the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence to show mitigating circumstance?

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr.:

We... we are not disagreeing in this case, no sir.

There... there is... was a burden in this case, and that is not the subject of our complaint.

Our complaint is that... is that that question can be resolved by one juror for the other 12, as it was in Mills.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but it... it does seem to me, perhaps I am wrong, that there is a certain inconsistency if you say that the state may place the burden on the defendant to prove it, but... but then you say the question should be addressed to each juror.