Tuilaepa v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute

DOCKET NO.: 93-5131
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 512 US 967 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1994

Howard W. Gillingham - on behalf of the Petitioner Tuilaepa
Wendy Cole Lascher - on behalf of the Petitioner Proctor
William George Prahl - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Tuilaepa v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1994 in Tuilaepa v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 93-5131, Paul Palalaua Tuilaepa v. California and Proctor against California.

Mr. Gillingham.

We'll run until noon, Mr. Gillingham, and then resume at 1:00.

Howard W. Gillingham:

Thank you, Your Honor.

All things considered, I'd rather have a sandwich, but I'm ready, Your Honor.

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

We come here today relying upon our record and the clear, firm, unequivocal mandate of this Court.

If a State chooses to use aggravating factors in the penalty determination phase and they play a critical role, they're subject to vagueness analysis under the Eighth Amendment, because vague, aggravating circumstances... vague, aggravating circumstance increases the risk of arbitrary and capricious sentencing, and therefore it gives no guidance.

Did California choose to use an aggravating circumstance?

It did.

Are the factors in California central to the decision?

They are.

Is that centrality manifested in a weighing scheme?


And we know by those factors what happened here.

We look to the record.

We start with the verdicts.

We, the jury, find the aggravating circumstances outweigh, substantially outweigh the mitigating circumstances, and the penalty should be death.

That was the death verdict.

There was one other, the opposite conclusion coming to life if the aggravating circumstances did not outweigh the mitigations.

The instructions from the court... as, Justice Kennedy, you just referred to how important they are when they come from the court... told the jury to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, to assign a value to those factors.

The argument of the prosecutor, second most important person in the courtroom.

The factors are the essence of the case, the fundamental issue.

You'll be weighing those factors.

Antonin Scalia:

But, Mr. Gillingham, how could the vagueness of one of those factors produce any more random decisions than not giving the jury any factors at all and just saying having found one of the necessary conditions for imposing the death penalty, which California says is prior to the... to this stage of the case, just telling the jury once you've found guilt with one of these statutory factors that enable the imposition of the death penalty, it's up to you to propose the death penalty or not.

Surely the vagueness of one of the factors can't be any more arbitrary than that, any more random than that.

Howard W. Gillingham:

On the contrary, Your Honor.

Antonin Scalia:

You think it's more random.

Howard W. Gillingham:

On the contrary.

Antonin Scalia:

The vague factor is more random than saying do what you like, we won't tell you any factors at all.