Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Jewelry store robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 13, 1978
Date of birth: 1957
Victim profile: Frank Schlatt (police officer)
Method of murder: Shooting (.38 caliber Rossi revolver)
Location: Cobb County, Georgia, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in Georgia on September 25, 1991

STEVENS, J., Dissenting Opinion


481 U.S. 279

McCleskey v. Kemp


No. 84-6811 Argued: October 15, 1986 --- Decided: April 22, 1987

JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BLACKMUN joins, dissenting.

There "is a qualitative difference between death and any other permissible form of punishment," and hence,

"a corresponding difference in the need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case."

Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 884-885 (1983), quoting Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305 (1976) (plurality opinion of Stewart, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ.). Even when considerations far less repugnant than racial discrimination are involved, we have recognized the

vital importance to the defendant and to the community that any decision to impose the death sentence be, and appear to be, based on reason, rather than caprice or emotion.

Gardner v. Florida, 430 U.S. 349, 358 (1977).

[A]lthough not every imperfection in the deliberative process is sufficient, even in a capital case, to set aside a state court judgment, the severity of the sentence mandates careful scrutiny in the review of any colorable claim of error.

Zant, supra, at 885.

In this case, it is claimed -- and the claim is supported by elaborate studies which the Court properly assumes to be valid -- that the jury's sentencing process was likely distorted by racial prejudice. The studies demonstrate a strong probability that McCleskey's sentencing jury, which expressed "the community's outrage -- its sense that an individual has lost his moral entitlement to live," Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 469 (1984) (STEVENS, J., dissenting) -- was influenced by the fact that McCleskey is black and his victim was white, and that this same outrage would not have been generated if he had killed a member of his own race. This sort of disparity is constitutionally intolerable. It flagrantly violates the Court's prior "insistence that capital punishment be [p367] imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all." Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 112 (1982).

The Court's decision appears to be based on a fear that the acceptance of McCleskey's claim would sound the death knell for capital punishment in Georgia. If society were indeed forced to choose between a racially discriminatory death penalty (one that provides heightened protection against murder "for whites only") and no death penalty at all, the choice mandated by the Constitution would be plain. Eddings v. Oklahoma, supra. But the Court's fear is unfounded. One of the lessons of the Baldus study is that there exist certain categories of extremely serious crimes for which prosecutors consistently seek, and juries consistently impose, the death penalty without regard to the race of the victim or the race of the offender. If Georgia were to narrow the class of death-eligible defendants to those categories, the danger of arbitrary and discriminatory imposition of the death penalty would be significantly decreased, if not eradicated. As JUSTICE BRENNAN has demonstrated in his dissenting opinion, such a restructuring of the sentencing scheme is surely not too high a price to pay.

Like JUSTICE BRENNAN, I would therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. I believe, however, that further proceedings are necessary in order to determine whether McCleskey's death sentence should be set aside. First, the Court of Appeals must decide whether the Baldus study is valid. I am persuaded that it is, but orderly procedure requires that the Court of Appeals address this issue before we actually decide the question. Second, it is necessary for the District Court to determine whether the particular facts of McCleskey's crime and his background place this case within the range of cases that present an unacceptable risk that race played a decisive role in McCleskey's sentencing.

Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.



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