Tison v. Arizona

PETITIONER: Ricky and Ramond Tison
LOCATION: Arizona State Prison

DOCKET NO.: 84-6075
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Arizona Supreme Court

CITATION: 481 US 137 (1987)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1986
DECIDED: Apr 21, 1987
GRANTED: Feb 24, 1986

Alan M. Dershowitz - for petitioners
William J. Schafer, III - for respondent

Facts of the case

Ricky and Raymond Tison, brothers, conspired with several other family members to help their father, Gary, escape from prison. Gary was serving life in prison for murdering a guard during a previous escape attempt. Smuggling in a cooler full of guns, the Tisons helped Gary and his cellmate Randy escape. The group made a safe exit, but a few days later their car got a flat tire. They decided to flag down and steal a passing car. The group ordered the family of four out of the car while they transferred their belongings. When Ricky and Raymond went to get the family some water, Gary and Randy shot the family multiple times, killing them all. Ricky and Raymond did nothing to help the family. They continued to run with Randy and Gary until the chase ended in a shootout with police. Gary died in the desert of exposure before the police found him, and another brother died in the shootout. Ricky, Raymond, and Randy faced four counts of felony murder through accomplice liability. All three received the death penalty.

The Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed the sentences, holding that while the Tisons had not specifically intended to kill the family, they conspired with known killers and did nothing to aid the family when they had the chance. The Court held that the son’s anticipation that lethal force might be used in their endeavor satisfied the “intent” requirement for the death penalty.


Does the “intent to kill” requirement for the death penalty include situations where an accomplice anticipated a potential for use of lethal force?

Media for Tison v. Arizona

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 1986 in Tison v. Arizona

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 21, 1987 in Tison v. Arizona

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 84-6075, Tison against Arizona will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us on a certiorari to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The petitioners' helped plan and participated in a prison escape by their father Gary Tison and Randy Greenawalt both convicted murderers.

In the course of their flight from the prison, the petitioners have abducted, robbed and detained a family of four and watch their father and Greenawalt brutally murder their victims.

The petitioners were convicted of murder under Arizona's felony-murder statute and sentenced to death.

In postconviction proceedings they argued that they lacked the sufficiently culpable mental state to support constitutional imposition of the death sentences under this Court's holding in Enmund against Florida.

The Arizona Supreme Court found that although the petitioners did not specifically intend that the victims would die and did not plan the homicide or fire the shots that the requisite intent within the meaning of Enmund was established because they could have anticipated that life would or might be taken, in the course of their crimes.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today the Court holds that the Eighth Amendment does not permit imposition of the death sentence upon the findings made by the Arizona Supreme Court.

But that the record in this case could support findings that the petitioners were both major participants in the crimes, giving rise to the application of the felony-murder rule, and that they acted with reckless indifference to the value of human life.

The Eighth Amendment does not forbid the execution of the felony-murder under those circumstances.

The death sentences upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court are therefore vacated and the cases are remanded for further proceedings.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall joins in its entirety and in parts 1 through 4A of which Justices Blackman and Stevens have joined.