Zant v. Stephens

PETITIONER: Walter Zant, Warden of Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center
RESPONDENT: Alpha Otis O'Daniel Stephens
LOCATION: Bleckly County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 81-89
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 462 US 862 (1983)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1983
GRANTED: Oct 05, 1981

ADVOCATES:
Daryl A. Robinson - for petitioner
John Charles Boger - for respondent

Facts of the case

A jury in the Bleckly County Superior Court convicted Alpha Stephens of murder and sentenced him to the death penalty based on two of three possible statutory aggravating circumstances. While Stephens’ appeal was pending, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled one of the aggravating circumstances that justify the death penalty invalid. After exhausting all post conviction remedies, Stephens filed a writ of habeas corpus in Federal district court. The district court denied relief, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed.

On certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court certified the Supreme Court of Georgia to answer the question of what state law premises support affirming Stephens death sentence, even though one of the aggravating circumstances was now invalid. The Georgia court responded, holding that the jury used other aggravating circumstances along with the invalid one to sentence Stephens, so his sentence should stand.

Question

Should the court grant habeas corpus to Stephens because one of the aggravating circumstances leading to his death sentence is now invalid?

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