RESPONDENT:Lewis, Director, Arizona Department Of Corrections, et al.
LOCATION:Superior Court of the District of Columbia
DOCKET NO.: 91-7094
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 506 US 40 (1992)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1992
DECIDED: Dec 01, 1992
Paul Joseph McMurdie – on behalf of the Respondents
Timothy K. Ford – on behalf of the Petitioner
Media for Richmond v. Lewis
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 01, 1992 in Richmond v. Lewis
Sandra Day O’Connor:
The second case is Richmond against Lewis, 91-1794, and this case comes here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court for the Ninth Circuit.
An Arizona Trial Court sentenced the petitioner to death for first degree murder.
The sentencing judge found three statutory aggravating factors including the so-called “(F)(6) factor” that the offense was especially heinous, cruel, or depraved.
This factor was unconstitutionally vague at the time of sentencing but was given an adequate narrowing construction prior to the date that the Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed the petitioner’s sentence.
Four of the five Arizona Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court voted to affirm.
Two of the Justices joined a principal opinion that relied on the especially heinous (F)(6) factor.
The two concurring Justices relied only on the remaining aggravating factors.
One Justice dissented.
Petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus from the Federal District Court and that Court denied relief.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed.
The respondents concede that Arizona is a so-called weighing state where the sentencer is instructed to balance the aggravating and mitigating factors.
They also concede that at least the majority of the Supreme Court of Arizona needed to conduct a proper reweighing in order to cure the petitioner’s sentence of the initial vagueness error of the one factor.
We determine that the two concurring Justices did not reweigh.
They affirmed the death sentence simply because it was supported by other valid aggravating factors besides the (F)(6) factor.
This is the sort of automatic affirmance rule that we have previously explained in Clemons versus Mississippi and other cases that cannot be uphedl, and since petitioner’s sentence is invalid regardless of whether the principal Arizona opinion properly relied on the (F)(6) factor, we do not address that issue.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded with instructions to return the case to the District Court for entry of a conditional writ of habeas corpus.
Justice Scalia has filed the dissenting opinion; Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion.