Sandra LOCKETT, Petitioner,

State of OHIO
Supreme Court of the United States
438 U.S. 586,  98 S.Ct. 2954 (1978)

  [p. 589]   Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to the constitutionality of petitioner's conviction (Parts I and II), together with an opinion (Part III), in which Mr. Justice STEWART, Mr. Justice POWELL, and Mr. Justice STEVENS joined, on the constitutionality of the statute under which petitioner was sentenced to death, and announced the judgment of the Court.

  We granted certiorari in this case to consider, among other questions, whether Ohio violated the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments by sentencing Sandra Lockett to death pursuant to a statute that narrowly limits the sentencer's discretion to consider the circumstances of the crime and the record and character of the offender as mitigating factors.


  Lockett was charged with aggravated murder with the aggravating specifications (1) that the murder was "committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment" for aggravated robbery, and (2) that the murder was "committed while  . . .  committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit  . . . aggravated robbery."  That offense was punishable by death in Ohio.  See Ohio Rev.Code Ann. §§ 2929.03, 2929.04 (1975).  She was also charged with aggravated robbery.  The State's case against her depended largely upon the testimony of a coparticipant, one Al Parker . . . .

* * *

  Parker . . . was charged with aggravated murder with specifications, an offense punishable by death, and aggravated robbery.  Prior to trial, he pleaded guilty to the murder charge and agreed to testify against Lockett, her brother, and Dew.  In return, the prosecutor dropped the aggravated robbery charge and the specifications to the murder charge, thereby eliminating the possibility that Parker could receive the death penalty.

  Lockett's brother and Dew were later convicted of aggravated murder with specifications.  Lockett's brother was sentenced to death, but Dew received a lesser penalty because it was determined that his offense was "primarily the product of mental deficiency," one of the three mitigating circumstances specified in the Ohio death penalty statute.

  Two weeks before Lockett's separate trial, the prosecutor offered to permit her to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery (offenses which each carried a maximum penalty of 25 years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000, see Ohio Rev.Code Ann. §§ 2903.03, 2911.01, 2929.11 (1975)) if she would cooperate with the State, but she rejected the offer. Just prior to her trial, the prosecutor offered to permit her to plead guilty to aggravated murder without specifications, an offense carrying a mandatory life penalty, with the understanding that the aggravated robbery charge and an outstanding forgery charge would be dismissed.  Again she rejected the offer.

* * *

  The jury found Lockett guilty as charged.

  Once a verdict of aggravated murder with specifications had been returned, the Ohio death penalty statute required the trial judge to impose a death sentence unless, after "considering the nature and circumstances of the offense" and Lockett's "history, character, and condition," he found by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the victim had induced or facilitated the offense, (2) it was unlikely that Lockett would have committed the offense but for the fact that she "was under duress, coercion, or strong provocation," or (3) the [p. 594] offense was "primarily the product of [Lockett's] psychosis or mental deficiency."  Ohio Rev.Code §§ 2929.03-2929.04(B) (1975).

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  After considering the reports and hearing argument on the penalty issue, the trial judge concluded that the offense had not been primarily the product of psychosis or mental deficiency.  Without specifically addressing the other two statutory mitigating factors, the judge said that he had "no alternative, whether [he] like[d] the law or not" but to impose the death penalty.  He then sentenced Lockett to death.

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  Lockett challenges the constitutionality of Ohio's death penalty statute on a number of grounds.  We find it necessary to consider only her contention that her death sentence is invalid because the statute under which it was imposed did not permit the sentencing judge to consider, as mitigating factors, her character, prior record, age, lack of specific intent to cause death, and her relatively minor part in the crime. . . .

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 . . . . Essentially she contends that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer be given a full opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances in capital cases and that the Ohio statute does not comply with that requirement.  She relies, in large part, on the plurality opinions in Woodson, supra, 428 U.S., at 303-305, 96 S.Ct., at 2990-2991, and Roberts (Stanislaus) v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 333-334, 96 S.Ct. 3001, 3006, 49 L.Ed.2d 974 (1976), and the joint opinion in Jurek, supra, 428 U.S., at 271-272, 96 S.Ct., at 2956, but she goes beyond them.

 We begin by recognizing that the concept of individualized sentencing in criminal cases generally, although not constitutionally required, has long been accepted in this country.  See Williams v. New York, 337 U.S., at 247- 248, 69 S.Ct., at 1083;  Pennsylvania ex rel. Sullivan v. Ashe, 302 U.S., at 55, 58 S.Ct., at 60.  Consistent with that concept, sentencing judges traditionally have taken a wide range of factors into account.  That States have authority to make aiders and abettors equally responsible, as a matter of law, with principals, or to enact felony-murder statutes is beyond constitutional challenge.  But the definition of crimes generally has not been thought automatically to dictate what should be the proper penalty.  See ibid.;  Williams v. New York, supra, at 247-248, 69 S.Ct., at 1083; Williams v. Oklahoma, 358 U.S., at 585, 79 S.Ct., at 426.  And where sentencing discretion is granted, it generally [p. 603] has been agreed that the sentencing judge's "possession of the fullest information possible concerning the defendant's life and characteristics" is "[h]ighly relevant--if not essential --[to the] selection of an appropriate sentence  . . .."  Williams v. New York, supra, 337 U.S., at 247, 69 S.Ct., at 1083 (emphasis added).

  The opinions of this Court going back many years in dealing with sentencing in capital cases have noted the strength of the basis for individualized sentencing.  For example, Mr. Justice Black, writing for the Court in Williams v. New York, supra, at 247-248, 69 S.Ct., at 1083--a capital case-- observed that the
"whole country has traveled far from the period in which the death sentence was an automatic and commonplace result of convictions--even for offenses today deemed trivial."
 Ten years later, in Williams v. Oklahoma, supra, 358 U.S., at 585, 79 S.Ct., at 426, another capital case, the Court echoed Mr. Justice Black, stating that
"[i]n discharging his duty of imposing a proper sentence, the sentencing judge is authorized, if not required, to consider all of the mitigating and aggravating circumstances involved in the crime."  (Emphasis added.)
 See also Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S., at 245-246, 92 S.Ct., at 2729-2730  (Douglas, J., concurring);  id., at 297-298, 92 S.Ct., at 2756 (BRENNAN, J., concurring);  id., at 339, 92 S.Ct., at 2777 (MARSHALL, J., concurring); id., at 402-403, 92 S.Ct., at 2810 (BURGER, C. J., dissenting);  id., at 413, 92 S.Ct., at 2815 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting);  McGautha v. California, 402 U.S., at 197-203, 91 S.Ct., at 1462-1465.  Most would agree that "the 19th century movement away from mandatory death sentences marked an enlightened introduction of flexibility into the sentencing process."  Furman v. Georgia, supra, 408 U.S., at 402, 92 S.Ct., at 2810 (BURGER, C. J., dissenting).

  Although legislatures remain free to decide how much discretion in sentencing should be reposed in the judge or jury in noncapital cases, the plurality opinion in Woodson, after [p. 604] reviewing the historical repudiation of mandatory sentencing in capital cases, 428 U.S., at 289-298, 96 S.Ct., at 2984-2988, concluded that
"in capital cases the fundamental respect for humanity underlying the Eighth Amendment  . . .  requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death."  Id., at 304, 96 S.Ct., at 2991.
 That declaration rested "on the predicate that the penalty of death is qualitatively different" from any other sentence.  Id., at 305, 96 S.Ct., at 2991.  We are satisfied that this qualitative difference between death and other penalties calls for a greater degree of reliability when the death sentence is imposed.  The mandatory death penalty statute in Woodson was held invalid because it permitted no consideration of "relevant facets of the character and record of the individual offender or the circumstances of the particular offense."  Id., at 304, 96 S.Ct., at 2991.  The plurality did not attempt to indicate, however, which facets of an offender or his offense it deemed "relevant" in capital sentencing or what degree of consideration of "relevant facets" it would require.

 We are now faced with those questions and we conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer, in all but the rarest kind of capital case, [n. 11] 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. [n. 12]  We recognize that, in noncapital [p. 605] cases, the established practice of individualized sentences rests not on constitutional commands, but on public policy enacted into statutes.  The considerations that account for the wide acceptance of individualization of sentences in noncapital cases surely cannot be thought less important in capital cases.  Given that the imposition of death by public authority is so profoundly different from all other penalties, we cannot avoid the conclusion that an individualized decision is essential in capital cases.  The need for treating each defendant in a capital case with that degree of respect due the uniqueness of the individual is far more important than in noncapital cases.  A variety of flexible techniques--probation, parole, work furloughs, to name a few--and various postconviction remedies may be available to modify an initial sentence of confinement in noncapital cases.  The nonavailability of corrective or modifying mechanisms with respect to an executed capital sentence underscores the need for individualized consideration as a constitutional requirement in imposing the death sentence. [n. 13]

11. We express no opinion as to whether the need to deter certain kinds of homicide would justify a mandatory death sentence as, for example, when a prisoner--or escapee--under a life sentence is found guilty of murder. See Roberts (Harry) v. Louisiana, 431 U.S. 633, 637 n. 5, 97 S.Ct. 1993, 1996, 52 L.Ed.2d 637 (1977).

12. Nothing in this opinion limits the traditional authority of a court to exclude, as irrelevant, evidence not bearing on the defendant's character, prior record, or the circumstances of his offense.

13. Sentencing in noncapital cases presents no comparable problems.  We emphasize that in dealing with standards for imposition of the death sentence we intimate no view regarding the authority of a State or of the Congress to fix mandatory, minimum sentences for noncapital crimes.

  There is no perfect procedure for deciding in which cases governmental authority should be used to impose death.  But a statute that prevents the sentencer in all capital cases from giving independent mitigating weight to aspects of the defendant's character and record and to circumstances of the offense proffered in mitigation creates the risk that the death penalty will be imposed in spite of factors which may call for a less severe penalty.  When the choice is between life and death, that risk is unacceptable and incompatible with the commands of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

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  Accordingly, the judgment under review is reversed to the [p. 609] extent that it sustains the imposition of the death penalty, and the case is remanded for further proceedings. [n. 16]

16. In view of our holding that Lockett was not sentenced in accord with the Eighth Amendment, we need not address her contention that the death penalty is constitutionally disproportionate for one who has not been proved to have taken life, to have attempted to take life, or to have intended to take life, or her contention that the death penalty is disproportionate as applied to her in this case. . . .

 So ordered.