O'Dell v. Netherland

PETITIONER: O'Dell
RESPONDENT: Netherland
LOCATION: Sheriff Printz's Office

DOCKET NO.: 96-6867
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 521 US 151 (1997)
ARGUED: Mar 18, 1997
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1997

ADVOCATES:
Katherine P. Baldwin - Argued the cause for the respondents
Robert S. Smith - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

At the penalty phase of Joseph Roger O'Dell's state trial on capital murder, rape, and sodomy charges, the government presented evidence that he had been convicted of numerous other offenses. The court, subsequently, denied O'Dell's request for a jury instruction that he was ineligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison. After the jury determined that O'Dell presented a future danger, he was sentenced to death. The District Court, in granting O'Dell habeas relief, found that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, which requires that a capital defendant be permitted to inform his sentencing jury that he is parole-ineligible if the prosecution argues his future dangerousness, was not a "new rule" and, thus, entitled O'Dell to resentencing.

Question

Is the rule set forth in Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, which requires that a capital defendant be permitted to inform his sentencing jury that he is parole-ineligible if the prosecution argues that he presents a future danger, new and thereby inapplicable to an already final death sentence?

Media for O'Dell v. Netherland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 1997 in O'Dell v. Netherland

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 1997 in O'Dell v. Netherland

The opinion of the Court in Number 96-6867, O'Dell versus Netherland will be announced by Justice Thomas.

This case comes through at -- us on a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

During the penalty phase of his trial in Virginia state court for capital murder, rape and sodomy, petitioner was prevented from informing his sentencing jury that under then extant law, he would not be eligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison.

The jury, concluding that petitioner presented a future danger, recommended that petitioner receive the death penalty.

Accordingly, petitioner was sentenced to death.

On federal habeas, petitioner sought vacatur of his death sentence relying on a -- a case decided by this Court some six years after a sentence had become final.

In that case, Simmons versus South Carolina, we held that a capital defendant must be permitted to inform his sentencing jury that he is parole eligible if the prosecutor argues his future dangerousness.

The District Court acknowledged that if the rule of Simmons were new within the meaning of Teague v. Lane, then it was unavailable to petitioner.

That court determined, however, that Simmons did not announce a new rule and that petitioner was entitled under it to be resentenced.

The Fourth Circuit concluding that the Simmons rule was -- was a new rule reversed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

To determine whether a rule is new for Teague purposes, we first determine when a defendant's conviction or sentence became final.

We then decide whether at that time, a reasonable jurist would have felt compelled by existing precedent to extend the defendant that relief later sought in federal court.

If not, the rule is new and the defendant may not avail himself of it unless the rule falls within one of two narrow exceptions to Teague.

At the time that petitioner's sentence became final, a reasonable jurist could have concluded that the Constitution did not require that petitioner be permitted to inform his sentencing jury of his parole eligibility.

While decisions of this Court have struck down restrictions placed on criminal defendant's abilities to rebut prosecutorial evidence and arguments, these cases involved limitations on the defendant's ability to adduce historical evidence concerning their character and record, not evidence concerning postsentencing legal regimes.

Moreover, other decisions from this Court had made clear as a general matter that States retain the prerogative to determine whether, if at all, capital sentencing juries would receive information about the postsentencing legal regime.

In light of this precedence, it would -- would not have been unreasonable for a state jurist at the time petitioner's sentence became final to conclude that his state had constitutionally determined that each jurist would never receive information about postsentence proceedings including parole.

Accordingly, this rule of Simmons which in some cases overrides this state -- state determinations and requires that defendants be allowed to inform their juries of their parole ineligibility was a new rule and because it was not a watershed rule of criminal procedure within the meaning of Teague's second exception, petitioner may not avail himself of it.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer have joined.