LOCATION: FBI Field Office
DOCKET NO.: 99-7000
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 530 US 156 (2000)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 2000
DECIDED: Jun 12, 2000
David I. Bruck - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Katherine P. Baldwin - Argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
A Virginia jury found Bobby Ramdass guilty of murdering Mohammed Kayani, a clerk in the 7-Eleven he held up, and recommended the death sentence. At the time of the sentencing phase of his trial, final judgment had been entered against Ramdass for an armed robbery and he had been found guilty of a second armed robbery, but no final judgment had been entered. Under Virginia law, a conviction does not become final until the jury returns a verdict and the judge enters a final judgment of conviction and pronounces sentence. The Kayani judge paused and scheduled a future hearing to consider whether to impose the recommended sentence. During the interval between the jury trial and this hearing, final judgment had been entered on the second armed robbery conviction. At the sentencing hearing in the capital murder case, Ramdass, in arguing for a life sentence, claimed that his prior convictions made him ineligible for parole under Virginia's three-strikes law. The court sentenced Ramdass to death, and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. On remand from the U.S Supreme Court, the Virginia Supreme Court again affirmed the sentence over Ramdass' argument that he should have been allowed to inform the jury of his parole ineligibility. The court declined to apply a previous U.S Supreme Court holding that a jury considering imposing death should be told if the defendant is parole ineligible under state law. The court concluded that Ramdass was not parole ineligible when the jury was considering his sentence because the second armed robbery, in which no final judgment had been entered, did not count as a conviction for purposes of the three-strikes law. Ultimately, Ramdass sought federal habeas corpus relief. The District Court granted his petition, ruling that the jury should have been advised that he was ineligible for parole. In reversing, the Court of Appeals determined that Ramdass was not, at the time of his sentencing proceedings, legally ineligible for parole.
Must a jury must be instructed in the death penalty phase of sentencing that if the defendant is not given the death sentence, that he will be ineligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison?
Media for Ramdass v. AngeloneAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 2000 in Ramdass v. Angelone
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 2000 in Ramdass v. Angelone
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 99-7000 Ramdass versus Angelone, will be announced by Justice Kennedy.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
Bobby Lee Ramdass was convicted in Virginia State Courts, of murder and he was sentenced to death.
He is the petitioner in this Court and contends he is entitled to a new sentencing trial.
The opinion announcing the judgment, there are four justices including myself, who subscribed the opinion I have written.
In 1992, petitioner was released on parole and almost immediately embarked on a series of violent crimes.
In a period of just over two months he murdered two people, shot another in the head and left him bleeding from a serious wound and assaulted yet another person with a deadly weapon.
He also committed a series of armed robberies.
This proceeding involves his conviction for the capital murder of Mohammad Kayani, who is the last person he killed.
Kayani was a clerk at a convenience store, robbed by the petitioner and his accomplices, when Kayani fumbled in an attempt to open the store safe, the petitioner held a gun to Kayani’s head and pulled the trigger, the gun did not fire, on a second attempt the gun discharged killing Kayani.
Petitioner stood over the body and laughed, and after the robbery he asked his accomplices, “Why the other customers were not also killed?”
At the time of his trial, the petitioner had been tried for two of his earlier crimes.
First, a final judgment of conviction had been entered for petitioner’s robbery at the Pizza Hut restaurant.
Second, a jury had returned a guilty verdict for the robbery of the Domino's Pizza restaurant, but no final judgment of conviction had yet been imposed.
After the jury found petitioner guilty of murdering Kayani the capital sentencing proceeding was conducted.
During deliberations, the jury asked the judge whether the petitioner could be paroled before his death.
In accordance with then existing Virginia Law, the judge instructed the jury that they were not to concern themselves with matters that would occur after the sentence was imposed.
The jury then returned with its verdict and recommended the sentence of death.
After that trial we decided Simmons versus South Carolina.
Simmons held that under certain narrow circumstances, a capital defendant is entitled to inform the jury that he would be ineligible for parole if he were sentenced to life imprisonment.
We have not extended Simmons in subsequent cases; the this positive effect in Simmons was that the defendant had conclusively established his parole ineligibility under state law, at the time of the jury deliberations and of the murder trial.
In this case, in contrast to Simmons, the Virginia Supreme Court had declared that the three-strikes law did not apply and therefore the petitioner was not paroled ineligible under state law, at the time of his murder trial because no judgment of conviction had been entered for the Domino's crime.
Especially in light of the possibility the petitioner’s prior convictions could have been overturned by the Trial Court or on appeal.
This difference between Simmons and this case forecloses us from granting the relief petitioner requests; the rule of Simmons does not apply.
We affirm the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer join.