Lockett v. Ohio Case Brief

Summary of Lockett v. Ohio
438 U.S. 586, 98 S. Ct. 2954 (1978)

Facts: An Ohio statute was passed that required individuals convicted of aggravated murder to be given the death penalty. The death penalty was mandatory unless, “(1) the victim of the offense induced or facilitated it, (2) it is unlikely that the offense would have been committed, but for the fact that the offender was under duress, coercion, or strong provocation, [and] (3) the offense was primarily the product of the offender’s psychosis or mental deficiency, though such a condition is insufficient to establish the defense of insanity." Sandra Lockett, who had encouraged and driven the getaway car for the armed robbery of a pawnshop, which resulted in the murder of the pawnshop owner, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death due to the terms of the Ohio statute. Lockett argued that the statute was unconstitutional due to the fact that it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider mitigating factors in capital cases, which is required by the Eighth and Fourte! enth Amendments. The decision was seven and one-half to one-half. Chief Justice Burger announced the opinion of the Court, concurrences were by Justices Blackmun and Marshall, Justice Rehnquist in part concurred and in part dissented, and Justice Brennan opted not to participate.

Issue: Does the Ohio statute violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by limiting the consideration of mitigating factors in capital cases?

Holding: Yes.

Rationale: The Court argues “that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer, in all but the rarest kind of capital case, not be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant’s character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." The Court also noted that a law which prohibits one from considering mitigating factors creates the risk that the death penalty will be imposed, when in fact the crime may call for a lesser penalty. “The Ohio death penalty statute does not permit the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments."

Concurrences/Dissents: Justice Rehnquist filed a one-half dissent/one-half concurrence and argued that “[b]y encouraging defendants in capital cases, and presumably sentencing judges and juries, to take into consideration anything under the sun as a ‘mitigating circumstance,’ it will not guide sentencing discretion but will totally unleash it…" Justice Rehnquist also stated that Lockett had been given a fair trial and was found guilty of aggravated murder, and Ohio should not be “required to receive any sort of mitigating evidence which an accused or his lawyer wishes to offer."

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