Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
In a capital case, the second statutory question that Texas requires a sentencing jury to answer in considering whether to impose a death sentence is whether a defendant be a continuing threat to society. It is, of course, not easy to predict future behavior. The fact that such a determination is difficult, however, does not mean that it cannot be made. Indeed, prediction of future criminal conduct is an essential element in many of the decisions rendered throughout our criminal justice system. The decision whether to admit a defendant to bail, for instance, must often turn on a judge's prediction of the defendant's future conduct. And any sentencing authority must predict a convicted person's probable future conduct when it engages in the process of determining what punishment to impose. For those sentenced to prison, these same predictions must be made by parole authorities. The task that a Texas jury must perform in answering the statutory question in issue is thus basically no different from the task performed countless times each day throughout the American system of criminal justice. What is essential is that the jury have before it all possible relevant information about the individual defendant whose fate it must determine. Texas law clearly assures that all such evidence will be adduced.
Petitioner prisoner was convicted by a jury of murder, Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1256 (1973), for the killing of a 10-year-old girl by choking, strangling, and drowning her in the course of kidnapping and forcible rape. At a separate sentencing hearing, the jury then considered the two relevant statutory questions regarding aggravating and mitigating circumstances, i.e., whether the petitioner’s conduct that caused the death was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death of the deceased or another would result, and whether there was a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. The jury answered both question with a unanimous "yes," and in accordance with the statute, the judge sentenced petitioner to death. The state court of criminal appeals affirmed the death penalty sentence. Petitioner argued that the imposition of the death penalty violated his rights under U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV.
Did the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of murder under the Texas statutes violate the prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments?
The Court concluded that the state death penalty statute did not violate petitioner's constitutional rights because the statutory scheme did not permit consideration of the death penalty without a preliminary finding of aggravating circumstances, and the statutory questions allowed the jury to consider particularized mitigating factors. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the conviction and judgment.