Saffle v. Parks

LOCATION: Cuyahoga County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 88-1264
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 494 US 484 (1990)
ARGUED: Nov 01, 1989
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1990

Robert A. Nance - on behalf of Petitioners
Vivian Berger - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Saffle v. Parks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 01, 1989 in Saffle v. Parks

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 88-1264, James Saffle versus Robin Leroy Parks.

Mr. Nance, you may proceed.

Robert A. Nance:

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

In this case we ask the Court to decide whether the state may prohibit jury sympathy in capital sentencing or, conversely, whether the Eighth Amendment requires defendants be permitted an appeal to the sympathy of the jury.

Because we believe that a sympathy plea is not constitutionally required, we ask this Court to reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.

The respondent was convicted in the shooting murder of a gas station attendant in Oklahoma City.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the court told the jury that it must consider eight minimum mitigating circumstances, and, in addition, that the jury should consider any other or additional mitigating circumstances, if any, that they may find from the evidence to exist in the case.

Thus, consistent with Oklahoma law, this instruction to the jury left the jury's consideration of mitigating evidence wide open, based upon the testimony at trial.

The prosecutor discussed in his closing each of the eight minimum mitigating circumstances in turn and told the jury that they had to consider them.

In addition, the prosecutor told the jury that they could consider anything else they found in the record that might outweigh the aggravating circumstances in the case.

This much we assume is unobjectionable.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Nance, the case originated... the case that we're hearing... as a habeas review petition--

Robert A. Nance:

It did--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--collateral review?

Robert A. Nance:

--I did, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think, then, that we have to determine whether the rule sought would be applied retroactively, as suggested in Teague?

Robert A. Nance:

Your Honor, I've thought some about that, and, of course, we did not consider that in the court below.

But under Teague, before adopting the rule that the respondent asserts, I think you need to determine, yes, whether as a new rule and whether it is dictated by--

Sandra Day O'Connor:


And what's your position on that?

I know it isn't discussed in the briefs, and obviously Teague came out only last term.

But since it's something that we may have to look at, I'd be interested in knowing your views.

Robert A. Nance:

--Your Honor, if you feel that you need to look at it, I think Teague would compel the conclusion that the rule advanced by the court of appeals is a new rule because that rule was not dictated by precedent in force at the time Mr. Parks' conviction became final.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And why do you say that?

On what do you rely in making that assertion?

Robert A. Nance:

Your Honor, I'm unaware of any authority from this court that existed when his... Mr. Parks' conviction became final which would have prohibited, or which would have required, a sympathy plea that would have barred the state... put on the state essentially the duty of permitting a sympathy plea.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, I suppose the argument on the other side is that Locket and Eddings were already on the books and they require that you... that the jury be permitted to consider and give weight to evidence in mitigation.

Now, does the anti-sympathy instruction negate that, do you suppose?

Robert A. Nance:

I don't think the anti-sympathy instruction negates the consideration of mitigating evidence.

Clearly the rule was that the jury had to consider the mitigating evidence.