網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Opinion of the Court

The Supreme Court of Florida said this about petitioner's claim that the trial judge's instruction on the heinousness factor was unconstitutional:

“Sochor's next claim, regarding alleged errors in the penalty jury instructions, likewise must fail. None of the complained-of jury instructions were objected to at trial, and, thus, they are not preserved for appeal. Vaught v. State, 410 So. 2d 147 (Fla. 1982). In any event, Sochor's claims here have no merit.10

«10.

We reject without discussion Sochor's ... claims ... that the instructions as to the aggravating factors of heinous, atrocious, or cruel and cold, calculated, and premeditated were improper 580 So. 2d, at 602–603, and n. 10.

The quoted passage indicates with requisite clarity that the rejection of Sochor's claim was based on the alternative state ground that the claim was “not preserved for appeal,” and Sochor has said nothing in this Court to persuade us that this state ground is either not adequate or not independent. Hence, we hold ourselves to be without authority to address Sochor's claim based on the jury instruction about the heinousness factor.*

*JUSTICE STEVENS's dissenting conclusion that we do have jurisdiction, post, at 547–549, is mistaken. First, the suggestion that Sochor's pretrial motion objecting to the vagueness of Florida's heinousness factor preserved his objection to the heinousness instruction to the jury, post, at 547, ignores the settled rule of Florida procedure that, in order to preserve an objection, a party must object after the trial judge has instructed the jury. See, e. g., Harris v. State, 438 So. 2d 787, 795 (Fla. 1983), cert. denied, 466 U. S. 963 (1984); Vazquez v. State, 518 So. 2d 1348, 1350 (Fla. App. 1987); Walker v. State, 473 So. 2d 694, 697–698 (Fla. App. 1985). While the rule is subject to a limited exception for an advance request for a specific jury instruction that is explicitly denied, see, e. g., State v. Heathcoat, 442 So. 2d 955, 957 (Fla. 1983); Buford v. Wainwright, 428 So. 2d

Opinion of the Court

B

Sochor maintains that the same Eighth Amendment violation occurred again when the trial judge, who both parties

1389, 1390 (Fla.), cert. denied, 464 U. S. 956 (1983); De Parias v. State, 562 So. 2d 434, 435 (Fla. App. 1990), Sochor gets no benefit from this exception, because he never asked for a specific instruction.

Second, JUSTICE STEVENS states that “the Florida Supreme Court, far from providing us with a plain statement that petitioner's claim was procedurally barred, has merely said that the claim was not preserved for appeal, and has given even further indication that petitioner's claim was not procedurally barred by proceeding to the merits, albeit in the alternative.” Post, at 547–548 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). It is difficult to comprehend why the State Supreme Court's statement that “the claim was not preserved for appeal” would not amount to "a plain statement that petitioner's claim was procedurally barred,” especially since there is no reason to believe that error of the kind Sochor alleged cannot be waived under Florida law, see this note, infra. It is even more difficult to comprehend why the fact that the State Supreme Court rested upon this state ground merely in the alternative would somehow save jurisdiction. See supra, at 533.

Third, JUSTICE STEVENS suggests that, in holding Sochor's claim waived, the Supreme Court of Florida implied that the claim did not implicate “fundamental error,” and that this in turn implied a rejection of Sochor's claim of “error,” presumably because all federal constitutional error (or at least the kind claimed by Sochor) would automatically be “fundamental.” Post, at 548–549. To say that this is “the most reasonable explanation,” Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1041 (1983), of the court's summary statement that Sochor's claim was “not preserved for appeal,” see 580 So. 2d, at 602-603, is an Olympic stretch, see Harris v. Reed, 489 U. S. 255, 274–276 (1989) (KENNEDY, J., dissenting). In any event, we know of no Florida authority supporting JUSTICE STEVENS's suggestion that all federal constitutional error (or even the kind claimed by Sochor) would be automatically "fundamental.” Indeed, where, as here, valid aggravating factors would remain, instructional error involving another factor is not “fundamental.” See Occhicone v. State, 570 So. 2d 902, 906 (Fla. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U. S. 938 (1991).

Finally, JUSTICE STEVENS's suggestion that the State waived its independent-state-ground defense, post, at 548–549, forgets that this defense goes to our jurisdiction and therefore cannot be waived. See supra, at 533.

.

Opinion of the Court

agree is at least a constituent part of “the sentencer," weighed the heinousness factor himself. To be sure, Sochor acknowledges the rule in Walton v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639 (1990), where we held it was no error for a trial judge to weigh an aggravating factor defined by statute with impermissible vagueness, when the State Supreme Court had construed the statutory language narrowly in a prior case. Id., at 653. We presumed that the trial judge had been familiar with the authoritative construction, which gave significant guidance. Ibid. Sochor nonetheless argues that Walton is no help to the State, because Florida's heinousness factor has not been subjected to the limitation of a narrow construction from the State Supreme Court.

In State v. Dixon, 283 So. 2d 1 (1973), cert. denied, 416 U. S. 943 (1974), the Supreme Court of Florida construed the statutory definition of the heinousness factor:

"It is our interpretation that heinous means extremely wicked or shockingly evil; that atrocious means outrageously wicked and vile; and, that cruel means designed to inflict a high degree of pain with utter indifference to, or even enjoyment of, the suffering of others. What is intended to be included are those capital crimes where the actual commission of the capital felony was accompanied by such additional acts as to set the crime apart from the norm of capital felonies—the conscienceless or pitiless crime which is unnecessarily torturous to the victim." 283 So. 2d, at 9.

Understanding the factor, as defined in Dixon, to apply only to a “conscienceless or pitiless crime which is unnecessarily torturous to the victim,” we held in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U. S. 242 (1976), that the sentencer had adequate guidance. See id., at 255–256 (opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.).

Sochor contends, however, that the State Supreme Court's post-Proffitt cases have not adhered to Dixon's limitation as

Opinion of the Court

stated in Proffitt, but instead evince inconsistent and overbroad constructions that leave a trial court without sufficient guidance. And we may well agree with him that the Supreme Court of Florida has not confined its discussions on the matter to the Dixon language we approved in Proffitt, but has on occasion continued to invoke the entire Dixon statement quoted above, perhaps thinking that Proffitt approved it all. See, e. g., Porter v. State, 564 So. 2d 1060 (1990), cert. denied, 498 U. S. 1110 (1991); Cherry v. State, 544 So. 2d 184, 187 (1989), cert. denied, 494 U. S. 1090 (1990); Lucas v. State, 376 So. 2d 1149, 1153 (1979).

But however much that may be troubling in the abstract, it need not trouble us here, for our review of Florida law indicates that the State Supreme Court has consistently held that heinousness is properly found if the defendant strangled a conscious victim. See Hitchcock v. State, 578 So. 2d 685, 692–693 (1990), cert. denied, 502 U. S. 912 (1991); Holton v. State, 573 So. 2d 284, 292 (1990); Tompkins v. State, 502 So. 2d 415, 421 (1986); Johnson v. State, 465 So. 2d 499, 507, cert. denied, 474 U. S. 865 (1985); Adams v. State, 412 So. 2d 850, cert. denied, 459 U. S. 882 (1982). Cf. Rhodes v. State, 547 So. 2d 1201, 1208 (1989) (strangulation of semiconscious victim not heinous); Herzog v. State, 439 So. 2d 1372 (1983) (same). We must presume the trial judge to have been familiar with this body of case law, see Walton, 497 U. S., at 653, which, at a minimum, gave the trial judge “[some) guidance,” id., at 654. Since the Eighth Amendment requires no more, we infer no error merely from the fact that the trial judge weighed the heinousness factor. While Sochor responds that the State Supreme Court's interpretation of the heinousness factor has left Florida trial judges without sufficient guidance in other factual situations, we fail to see how that supports the conclusion that the trial judge was without sufficient guidance in the case at hand. See generally Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U. S., at 361-364.

Opinion of the Court

III Sochor also claims that when “the sentencer” weighed the coldness factor there was Eighth Amendment error that went uncorrected in the State Supreme Court.

A First, Sochor complains of consideration of the coldness factor by the jury, the first step in his argument being that the coldness factor was "invalid” in that it was unsupported by the evidence; the second step, that the jury in the instant case "weighed” the coldness factor; and the third and last step, that in Florida the jury is at least a constituent part of “the sentencer” for Clemons purposes. The argument fails, however, for the second step is fatally flawed. Because the jury in Florida does not reveal the aggravating factors on which it relies, we cannot know whether this jury actually relied on the coldness factor. If it did not, there was no Eighth Amendment violation. Thus, Sochor implicitly suggests that, if the jury was allowed to rely on any of two or more independent grounds, one of which is infirm, we should presume that the resulting general verdict rested on the infirm ground and must be set aside. See Mills v. Maryland, 486 U. S. 367, 376–377 (1988); cf. Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 368 (1931). Just this Term, however, we held it was no violation of due process that a trial court instructed a jury on two different legal theories, one supported by the evidence, the other not. See Griffin v. United States, 502 U. S. 46 (1991). We reasoned that although a jury is unlikely to disregard a theory flawed in law, it is indeed likely to disregard an option simply unsupported by evidence. Id., at 59–60. We see no occasion for different reasoning here, and accordingly decline to presume jury error.

B Sochor next complains that Eighth Amendment error in the trial judge's weighing of the coldness factor was left uncured by the State Supreme Court.

« 上一頁繼續 »