Law School Case Brief
McGautha v. California - 402 U.S. 183, 91 S. Ct. 1454 (1971)
The criminal process, like the rest of the legal system, is replete with situations requiring "the making of difficult judgments" as to which course to follow.
Petitioner in No. 203 was convicted of first-degree murder in California, and was sentenced to death. The penalty was left to the jury's absolute discretion, and punishment was determined in a separate proceeding following the trial on the issue of guilt. Petitioner in No. 204 was convicted of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to death in Ohio, where the jury, which also had absolute penalty discretion, determined guilt and penalty after a single trial and in a single verdict. Certiorari was granted to consider whether petitioners' rights were infringed by permitting the death penalty without standards to govern its imposition, and in No. 204, to consider the constitutionality of a single guilt and punishment proceeding.
Were petitioners’ rights infringed by permitting the death penalty without standards to govern its imposition?
The Court held that as to both cases, the absence of standards to guide the jury's discretion in determining whether to impose or withhold the death penalty did not violate due process. It found that committing to the complete discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death in capital cases was not offensive to anything in the Constitution. According to the Court, the states were entitled to assume that jurors would act with due regard for the consequences of their decision and would consider a variety of factors, many of which would have been suggested by the evidence or argued by counsel.
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