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Brown v. Payton
United States Supreme Court
544 U.S. 133, 125 S. Ct. 1432, 161 L. Ed. 2d 334 (2005)
William Payton (defendant) was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder. During the penalty phase of his trial, Payton’s attorneys hoped to present postcrime mitigation evidence showing that Payton’s new religious beliefs had improved his behavior. Under California law regarding jury instructions, factor (k) allowed jurors to consider all evidence that might mitigate the gravity of a crime. Payton’s attorneys asked the judge to make the jury instructions regarding factor (k) more explicit by mentioning that jurors could consider evidence about Payton’s character and background. The court agreed that factor (k) could include background and character evidence but refused to make the instructions more explicit. While instructing the jury, the prosecutors incorrectly told the jury that they were not allowed to consider mitigating evidence that occurred after the crime. The judge did not correct this misstatement. Payton was sentenced to death. On appeal to the California Supreme Court, Payton argued that the prosecutors violated his Eighth Amendment rights by making the jury believe that it could not consider postcrime mitigation evidence. The California Supreme Court applied Boyde v. California to the case and held that it was unlikely that Payton’s jury believed that it was not allowed under factor (k) jury to consider postcrime mitigation evidence. The court upheld Payton’s convictions and sentence. Payton filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The district court held that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) did not apply to Payton’s case and granted his petition. An en banc court of appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of habeas relief, finding that factor (k) was unconstitutionally ambiguous and that the California Supreme Court unreasonably applied Boyde to Payton’s case by failing to hold that factor (k) was unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)
Concurrence (Breyer, J.)
Concurrence (Scalia, J.)
Dissent (Souter, J.)
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