Oregon v. Guzek

RESPONDENT:Randy Lee Guzek
LOCATION:United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 04-928
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Oregon Supreme Court

CITATION: 546 US 517 (2006)
GRANTED: Apr 25, 2005
ARGUED: Dec 07, 2005
DECIDED: Feb 22, 2006

Kannon K. Shanmugam – argued the cause for Petitioner
Mary H. Williams – argued the cause for Petitioner
Richard L. Wolf – argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

A jury found Randy Lee Guzek guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to death. On appeal, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned the death sentence. Guzek was sentenced to death again, and the Oregon Supreme Court again threw out the death sentence. When Guzek was sentenced to death a third time, the Oregon Supreme Court again overturned his sentence and also considered his complaint that he had not been allowed to present testimony about his alibi at the sentencing phase of the trial. Oregon law requires that evidence of innocence, such as an alibi, be presented during the trial, not during the sentencing hearing. The Oregon Supreme Court accepted Guzek’s argument that he had a constitutional right under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to introduce the alibi testimony at his sentencing proceeding. Oregon appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that it was reasonable to restrict the introduction of evidence of innocence to the guilt phase of the trial.


Is there a constitutional right under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to introduce evidence of innocence during the sentencing phase of a trial?

Media for Oregon v. Guzek

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 07, 2005 in Oregon v. Guzek

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 22, 2006 in Oregon v. Guzek

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion in No. 04-928, Oregon versus Guzek.

Stephen G. Breyer:

This is a capital case.

The Oregon Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing proceeding after reviewing the case, and the respondent, who is the defendant, Randy Lee Guzek, wants to introduce at that new sentencing proceeding some new testimony from his mother tending to show that he had an alibi for the night of the crime and consequently didn’t commit the crime itself.

The Oregon Supreme Court has read several cases from this Court; namely, Lockett v. Ohio, Eddings v. Oklahoma, Green v. Georgia.

It’s read those cases as holding that Guzek has a federal Constitutional right to introduce his mother’s evidence about alibi at the new sentencing proceeding.

We do not agree about that with the Oregon Supreme Court.

In our view, the cases to which Oregon refers do not provide Guzek with the right to introduce alibi evidence at a new sentencing proceeding.

Indeed, in a later case called Franklin v. Lynaugh, this Court specifically said, “We have not decided whether the Constitution grants a capital defendant the right to introduce at sentencing evidence”, like the alibi evidence, “designed to cast a residual doubt on his guilt of the basic crime of conviction”.

The Court, then, in Franklin itself didn’t decide the question, and like that Court, today we don’t decide the question.

The reason we don’t decide that are more important residual-doubt question is that even if there is some kind of right like that, three circumstances taken together make it plain that Guzek lacks a Constitutional right to introduce the new alibi evidence that is at issue here.

Now, first, like all residual-doubt evidence, this alibi evidence concerns whether Guzek committed the crime, not how he committed.

Sentencing normally is about the opposite, namely, how a defendant committed the crime, not whether he did so; that’s a matter normally for the trial; second, a court, namely the court that convicted Guzek, has already considered this alibi claim and rejected it and the law does normally can discourage collateral attacks on matters that are previously decided; and, third — and this is special in this case — Oregon law allows Guzek to introduce at the new sentencing hearing all of the evidence he introduced earlier at the trial.

He introduced alibi evidence then; he can reintroduce it now.

Of course, what he wants to do is to, at this re-sentencing hearing, introduce some new and different alibi evidence, evidence that is far as we have been told he could have introduced, but did not introduce, at his original trial.

A state can set reasonable limits upon the evidence a defendant can submit at sentencing, and it can control in a reasonable way the manner of submission.

We see nothing unreasonable about, in effect, telling Guzek to introduce that evidence the first time or not at all.

For these reasons, we conclude that the Federal Constitution does not grant Guzek the evidentiary right he claims here, and we reverse the Oregon Supreme Court’s contrary determination.

There is also a motion to dismiss our writ as improvidently granted, which we do not.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in our denial of the motion to dismiss as improvidently granting and concurring in the judgment; Justice Thomas has joined Justice Scalia; Justice Alito took no part in the consideration or the decision of this case.