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decided*fn*: May 3, 1971.



Harlan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart, White, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Black, J., filed a separate opinion, post, p. 225. Douglas, J., filed an opinion dissenting in No. 204, in which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 226. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Douglas and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 248.

Author: Harlan

[ 402 U.S. Page 185]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners McGautha and Crampton were convicted of murder in the first degree in the courts of California and Ohio respectively and sentenced to death pursuant to the statutes of those States. In each case the decision whether the defendant should live or die was left to the absolute discretion of the jury. In McGautha's case the jury, in accordance with California law, determined punishment in a separate proceeding following the trial on the issue of guilt. In Crampton's case, in accordance with Ohio law, the jury determined guilt and punishment after a single trial and in a single verdict. We granted certiorari in the McGautha case limited to the question whether petitioner's constitutional rights were infringed by permitting the jury to impose the death penalty without any governing standards. 398 U.S. 936 (1970). We granted certiorari in the Crampton case limited to that same question and to the further question whether the jury's imposition of the death sentence in the same proceeding and verdict as determined the issue of guilt was constitutionally permissible. Ibid.*fn1 For the reasons

[ 402 U.S. Page 186]

     that follow, we find no constitutional infirmity in the conviction of either petitioner, and we affirm in both cases.


It will put the constitutional issues in clearer focus to begin by setting out the course which each trial took.

A. McGautha's Guilt Trial

McGautha and his co-defendant Wilkinson were charged with committing two armed robberies and a murder on February 14, 1967.*fn2 In accordance with California procedure in capital cases, the trial was in two stages, a guilt stage and a punishment stage.*fn3 At the guilt trial the

[ 402 U.S. Page 187]

     evidence tended to show that the defendants, armed with pistols, entered the market of Mrs. Pon Lock early in the afternoon of the murder. While Wilkinson kept a customer under guard, McGautha trained his gun on Mrs. Lock and took almost $300. Roughly three hours later, McGautha and Wilkinson held up another store, this one owned by Mrs. Benjamin Smetana and operated by her with her husband's assistance. While one defendant forcibly restrained a customer, the other struck Mrs. Smetana on the head. A shot was fired, fatally wounding Mr. Smetana. Wilkinson's former girl friend testified that shortly after the robbery McGautha told her he had shot a man and showed her an empty cartridge in the cylinder of his gun. Other evidence at the guilt stage was inconclusive on the issue as to who fired the fatal shot. The jury found both defendants guilty of two counts of armed robbery and one count of first-degree murder as charged.

B. McGautha's Penalty Trial

At the penalty trial, which took place on the following day but before the same jury, the State waived its opening, presented evidence of McGautha's prior felony convictions and sentences, see n. 2, supra, and then rested. Wilkinson testified in his own behalf, relating his unhappy childhood in Mississippi as the son of a white

[ 402 U.S. Page 188]

     father and a Negro mother, his honorable discharge from the Army on the score of his low intelligence, his regular attendance at church, and his good record for holding jobs and supporting his mother and siblings up to the time he was shot in the back in an unprovoked assault by a street gang. Thereafter, he testified, he had difficulty obtaining or holding employment. About a year later he fell in with McGautha and his companions, and when they found themselves short of funds, one of the group suggested that they "knock over somebody." This was the first time, Wilkinson said, that he had ever had any thoughts of committing a robbery. He admitted participating in the two robberies but said he had not known that the stores were to be held up until McGautha drew his gun. He testified that it had been McGautha who struck Mrs. Smetana and shot Mr. Smetana.

Wilkinson called several witnesses in his behalf. An undercover narcotics agent testified that he had seen the murder weapon in McGautha's possession and had seen McGautha demonstrating his quick draw. A minister with whom Wilkinson had boarded testified to Wilkinson's church attendance and good reputation. He also stated that before trial Wilkinson had expressed his horror at what had happened and requested the minister's prayers on his behalf. A former fellow employee testified that Wilkinson had a good reputation and was honest and peaceable.

McGautha also testified in his own behalf at the penalty hearing. He admitted that the murder weapon was his, but testified that he and Wilkinson had traded guns, and that it was Wilkinson who had struck Mrs. Smetana and killed her husband. McGautha testified that he came from a broken home and that he had been wounded during World War II. He related his employment record, medical condition, and remorse. He admitted his criminal record, see n. 2, supra, but testified that he had

[ 402 U.S. Page 189]

     been a mere accomplice in two of those robberies and that his prior conviction for murder had resulted from a slaying in self-defense. McGautha also admitted to a 1964 guilty plea to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. He called no witnesses in his behalf.

The jury was instructed in the following language:

"in this part of the trial the law does not forbid you from being influenced by pity for the defendants and you may be governed by mere sentiment and sympathy for the defendants in arriving at a proper penalty in this case; however, the law does forbid you from being governed by mere conjecture, prejudice, public opinion or public feeling.

"The defendants in this case have been found guilty of the offense of murder in the first degree, and it is now your duty to determine which of the penalties provided by law should be imposed on each defendant for that offense. Now, in arriving at this determination you should consider all of the evidence received here in court presented by the People and defendants throughout the trial before this jury. You may also consider all of the evidence of the circumstances surrounding the crime, of each defendant's background and history, and of the facts in aggravation or mitigation of the penalty which have been received here in court. However, it is not essential to your decision that you find mitigating circumstances on the one hand or evidence in aggravation of the offense on the other hand.

". . . Notwithstanding facts, if any, proved in mitigation or aggravation, in determining which punishment shall be inflicted, you are entirely free to act according to your own judgment, conscience,

[ 402 U.S. Page 190]

     and absolute discretion. That verdict must express the individual opinion of each juror.

"Now, beyond prescribing the two alternative penalties, the law itself provides no standard for the guidance of the jury in the selection of the penalty, but, rather, commits the whole matter of determining which of the two penalties shall be fixed to the judgment, conscience, and absolute discretion of the jury. In the determination of that matter, if the jury does agree, it must be unanimous as to which of the two penalties is imposed." App. 221-223.*fn4

[ 402 U.S. Page 191]

     Deliberations began in the early afternoon of August 24, 1967. In response to jury requests the testimony of Mrs. Smetana and of three other witnesses was reread. Late in the afternoon of August 25 the jury returned verdicts fixing Wilkinson's punishment at life imprisonment and McGautha's punishment at death.

The trial judge ordered a probation report on McGautha. Having received it, he overruled McGautha's motions for a new trial or for a modification of the penalty verdict, and pronounced the death sentence.*fn5 McGautha's conviction was unanimously affirmed by the California Supreme Court. 70 Cal. 2d 770, 452 P. 2d 650 (1969). His contention that standardless jury sentencing is unconstitutional was rejected on the authority of an earlier case, In re Anderson, 69 Cal. 2d 613, 447 P. 2d 117 (1968), in which that court had divided narrowly on the issue.

C. Crampton's Trial

Petitioner Crampton was indicted for the murder of his wife, Wilma Jean, purposely and with premeditated malice. He pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.*fn6 In accordance with the Ohio practice which

[ 402 U.S. Page 192]

     he challenges, his guilt and punishment were determined in a single unitary proceeding.

At trial the State's case was as follows. The Cramptons had been married about four months at the time of the murder. Two months before the slaying Crampton was allowed to leave the state mental hospital, where he was undergoing observation and treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, to attend the funeral of his wife's father. On this occasion he stole a knife from the house of his late father-in-law and ran away. He called the house several times and talked to his wife, greatly upsetting her. When she pleaded with him to return to the hospital and stated that she would have to call the police, he threatened to kill her if she did. Wilma and her brother nevertheless did notify the authorities, who picked Crampton up later the same evening. There was testimony of other threats Crampton had made on his wife's life, and it was revealed that about 10 days before the murder Mrs. Crampton's fear of her husband had caused her to request and receive police protection.

The State's main witness to the facts surrounding the murder was one William Collins, a convicted felon who had first met Crampton when they, along with Crampton's brother Jack, were in the State Prison in Michigan. On January 14, 1967, three days before the murder, Collins and Crampton met at Jack Crampton's house in Pontiac, Michigan. During those three days Collins and Crampton roamed the upper Midwest, committing a series of petty thefts and obtaining amphetamines, to which both were addicted, by theft and forged prescriptions.

About nine o'clock on the evening of January 16, Crampton called his wife from St. Joseph, Michigan; after the call he told Collins that he had to get back to Toledo, where his wife was, as fast as possible. They arrived in the early morning hours of January 17. After

[ 402 U.S. Page 193]

     Crampton had stopped by his wife's home and sent Collins to the door with a purported message for her, the two went to the home of Crampton's mother-in-law, which Crampton knew to be empty, to obtain some guns. They broke in and stole a rifle, ammunition, and some handguns, including the .45 automatic which was later identified as the murder weapon. Crampton kept this gun with him. He indicated to Collins that he believed his wife was having an affair. He fired the .45 in the air, with a remark to the effect that "a slug of that type would do quite a bit of damage," and said that if he found his wife with the man he suspected he would kill them both.

That evening Crampton called his wife's home and learned that she was present. He quickly drove out to the house, and told Collins, "Leave me off right here in front of the house and you take the car and go back to the parking lot and if I'm not there by six o'clock in the morning you're on your own."

About 11:20 that evening Crampton was arrested for driving a stolen car. The murder weapon was found between the seats of the car.

Mrs. Crampton's body was found the next morning. She had been shot in the face at close range while she was using the toilet. A .45-caliber shell casing was near the body. A jacket which Crampton had stolen a few days earlier was found in the living room. The coroner, who examined the body at 11:30 p.m. on January 18, testified that in his opinion death had occurred 24 hours earlier, plus or minus four hours.

The defense called Crampton's mother as a witness. She testified about Crampton's background, including a serious concussion received at age nine, his good grades in junior high school, his stepfather's jealousy of him, his leaving home at age 14 to live with various relatives, his enlistment in the Navy at age 17, his marriage to a girl named Sandra, the birth of a son, a divorce, then a

[ 402 U.S. Page 194]

     remarriage to Sandra and another divorce shortly after, and finally his marriage to Wilma. Mrs. Crampton also testified to Crampton's drug addiction, to his brushes with the law as a youth and as an adult, and to his undesirable discharge from the Navy.

Crampton's attorney also introduced into evidence a series of hospital reports which contained further information on Crampton's background, including his criminal record, which was substantial, his court-martial conviction and undesirable discharge from the Navy, and the absence of any significant employment record. They also contained his claim that the shooting was accidental; that he had been gathering up guns around the house and had just removed the clip from an automatic when his wife asked to see it; that as he handed it to her it went off accidentally and killed her. All the reports concluded that Crampton was sane in both the legal and the medical senses. He was diagnosed as having a sociopathic personality disorder, along with alcohol and drug addiction. Crampton himself did not testify.

The jury was instructed that:

"If you find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree, the punishment is death, unless you recommend mercy, in which event the punishment is imprisonment in the penitentiary during life." App. 70.

The jury was given no other instructions specifically addressed to the decision whether to recommend mercy, but was told in connection with its verdict generally:

"You must not be influenced by any consideration of sympathy or prejudice. It is your duty to carefully weigh the evidence, to decide all disputed questions of fact, to apply the instructions of the court to your findings and to render your verdict accordingly. In fulfilling your duty, your efforts must be to arrive at a just verdict.

[ 402 U.S. Page 195]

     "Consider all the evidence and make your finding with intelligence and impartiality, and without bias, sympathy, or prejudice, so that the State of Ohio and the defendant will feel that their case was fairly and impartially tried." App. 71-72.

The jury deliberated for over four hours and returned a verdict of guilty, with no recommendation for mercy.

Sentence was imposed about two weeks later. As Ohio law requires, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2947.05 (1954), Crampton was informed of the verdict and asked whether he had anything to say as to why judgment should not be pronounced against him. He replied:

"Please the Court, I don't believe I received a fair and impartial trial because the jury was prejudiced by my past record and the fact I had been a drug addict, and I just believe I didn't receive a fair and impartial trial. That's all I have to say."

This statement was found insufficient to justify not pronouncing sentence upon him, and the court imposed the death sentence.*fn7 Crampton's appeals through the Ohio courts were unavailing. 18 Ohio St. 2d 182, 248 N. E. 2d 614 (1969).


Before proceeding to a consideration of the issues before us, it is important to recognize and underscore the nature of our responsibilities in judging them. Our function is not to impose on the States, ex cathedra, what might seem to us a better system for dealing with capital cases. Rather, it is to decide whether the Federal Constitution proscribes the present procedures of these two

[ 402 U.S. Page 196]

     States in such cases. In assessing the validity of the conclusions reached in this opinion, that basic factor should be kept constantly in mind.


We consider first McGautha's and Crampton's common claim: that the absence of standards to guide the jury's discretion on the punishment issue is constitutionally intolerable. To fit their arguments within a constitutional frame of reference petitioners contend that to leave the jury completely at large to impose or withhold the death penalty as it sees fit is fundamentally lawless and therefore violates the basic command of the Fourteenth Amendment that no State shall deprive a person of his life without due process of law. Despite the undeniable surface appeal of the proposition, we conclude that the courts below correctly rejected it.*fn8

[ 402 U.S. Page 197]


In order to see petitioners' claim in perspective, it is useful to call to mind the salient features of the history of capital punishment for homicides under the common law in England, and subsequent statutory developments in this country. This history reveals continual efforts, uniformly unsuccessful, to identify before the fact those homicides for which the slayer should die. Thus, the laws of Alfred, echoing Exodus 21: 12-13, provided: "Let the man who slayeth another wilfully perish by death. Let him who slayeth another of necessity or unwillingly, or unwilfully, as God may have sent him into his hands, and for whom he has not lain in wait be worthy of his life and of lawful bot if he seek an asylum." Quoted in 3 J. Stephen, History of the Criminal Law of England 24 (1883). In the 13th century, Bracton set it down that a man was responsible for all homicides except those which happened by pure accident or inevitable necessity, although he did not explain the consequences of such responsibility. Id., at 35. The Statute of Gloucester, 6 Edw. 1, c. 9 (1278), provided that in cases of self-defense or misadventure the jury should neither convict nor acquit, but should find the fact specially, so that the King could decide whether to pardon the accused. It appears that in time such pardons -- which may not have prevented forfeiture of goods -- came to issue as of course. 3 Stephen, supra, at 36-42.

During all this time there was no clear distinction in terminology or consequences among the various kinds of criminal homicide. All were prima facie capital, but all were subject to the benefit of clergy, which after 1350 came to be available to almost any man who could read. Although originally those entitled to benefit of clergy were simply delivered to the bishop for ecclesiastical proceedings, with the possibility of degradation from orders,

[ 402 U.S. Page 198]

     incarceration, and corporal punishment for those found guilty, during the 15th and 16th centuries the maximum penalty for clergyable offenses became branding on the thumb, imprisonment for not more than one year, and forfeiture of goods. 1 Stephen, supra, at 459-464. By the statutes of 23 Hen. 8, c. 1, §§ 3, 4 (1531), and 1 Edw. 6, c. 12, § 10 (1547), benefit of clergy was taken away in all cases of "murder of malice prepensed." 1 Stephen, supra, at 464-465; 3 id., at 44. During the next century and a half, however, "malice prepense" or "malice aforethought" came to be divorced from actual ill will and inferred without more from the act of killing. Correspondingly, manslaughter, which was initially restricted to cases of "chance medley," came to include homicides where the existence of adequate provocation rebutted the inference of malice. 3 id., at 46-73.

The growth of the law continued in this country, where there was rebellion against the common-law rule imposing a mandatory death sentence on all convicted murderers. Thus, in 1794, Pennsylvania attempted to reduce the rigors of the law by abolishing capital punishment except for "murder of the first degree," defined to include all "willful, deliberate and premeditated" killings, for which the death penalty remained mandatory. Pa. Laws 1794, c. 1777. This reform was soon copied by Virginia and thereafter by many other States.

This new legislative criterion for isolating crimes appropriately punishable by death soon proved as unsuccessful as the concept of "malice aforethought." Within a year the distinction between the degrees of murder was practically obliterated in Pennsylvania. See Keedy, History of the Pennsylvania Statute Creating Degrees of Murder, 97 U. Pa. L. Rev. 759, 773-777 (1949). Other States had similar experiences. Wechsler & Michael, A Rationale of the Law of Homicide: I, 37 Col. L. Rev. 701,

[ 402 U.S. Page 199707]

     -709 (1937). The result was characterized in this way by Chief Judge Cardozo, as he then was:

"What we have is merely a privilege offered to the jury to find the lesser degree when the suddenness of the intent, the vehemence of the passion, seems to call irresistibly for the exercise of mercy. I have no objection to giving them this dispensing power, but it should be given to them directly and not in a mystifying cloud of words." What Medicine Can Do For Law, in Law and Literature 70, 100 (1931).*fn9

At the same time, jurors on occasion took the law into their own hands in cases which were "willful, deliberate, and premeditated" in any view of that phrase, but which nevertheless were clearly inappropriate for the death penalty. In such cases they simply refused to convict of the capital offense. See Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949-1953, Cmd. 8932, paras. 27-29 (1953); Andres v. United States, 333 U.S. 740, 753 (1948) (Frankfurter, J., concurring); cf. H. Kalven & H. Zeisel, The American Jury 306-312 (1966).

In order to meet the problem of jury nullification, legislatures did not try, as before, to refine further the definition of capital homicides. Instead they adopted the method of forthrightly granting juries the discretion which they had been exercising in fact. See Knowlton, Problems of Jury Discretion in Capital Cases, 101 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1099, 1102 and n. 18 (1953); Note, The Two-Trial System in Capital Cases, 39 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 50,

[ 402 U.S. Page 20052]

     (1964). Tennessee was the first State to give juries sentencing discretion in capital cases,*fn10 Tenn. Laws 1837-1838, c. 29, but other States followed suit, as did the Federal Government in 1897.*fn11 Act of Jan. 15, 1897, c. 29, § 1, 29 Stat. 487. Shortly thereafter, in Winston v. United States, 172 U.S. 303 (1899), this Court dealt with the federal statute for the first time.*fn12 The Court reversed a murder conviction in which the trial judge instructed the jury that it should not return a recommendation of mercy unless it found the existence of mitigating circumstances. The Court found this instruction to interfere with the scheme of the Act to commit the whole question of capital punishment "to the judgment and the consciences of the jury." Id., at 313.

"How far considerations of age, sex, ignorance, illness or intoxication, of human passion or weakness, of sympathy or clemency, or the irrevocableness

[ 402 U.S. Page 201]

     of an executed sentence of death, or an apprehension that explanatory facts may exist which have not been brought to light, or any other consideration whatever, should be allowed weight in deciding the question whether the accused should or should not be capitally punished, is committed by the act of Congress to the sound discretion of the jury, and of the jury alone." Ibid.

This Court subsequently had occasion to pass on the correctness of instructions to the jury with respect to recommendations of mercy in Andres v. United States, 333 U.S. 740 (1948). The Court approved, as consistent with the governing statute, an instruction that:

"This power [to recommend mercy] is conferred solely upon you and in this connection the Court can not extend or prescribe to you any definite rule defining the exercise of this power, but commits the entire matter of its exercise to your judgment." Id., at 743 n. 4.

The case was reversed, however, on the ground that other instructions on the power to recommend mercy might have been interpreted by the jury as requiring them to return an unqualified verdict of guilty unless they unanimously agreed that mercy should be extended. The Court determined that the proper construction was to require a unanimous decision to withhold mercy as well, on the ground among others that the latter construction was "more consonant with the general humanitarian purpose of the statute." Id., at 749. The only other significant discussion of standardless jury sentencing in capital cases in our decisions is found in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968). In reaching its conclusion that persons with conscientious scruples against the death penalty could not be automatically excluded from sentencing juries in capital cases, the Court relied heavily

[ 402 U.S. Page 202]

     on the fact that such juries "do little more -- and must do nothing less -- than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death." Id., at 519 (footnote omitted). The Court noted that "one of the most important functions any jury can perform in making such a selection is to maintain a link between contemporary community values and the penal system -- a link without which the determination of punishment could hardly reflect 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.'" Id., at 519 n. 15. The inner quotation is from the opinion of Mr. Chief Justice Warren for four members of the Court in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958).

In recent years academic and professional sources have suggested that jury sentencing discretion should be controlled by standards of some sort. The American Law Institute first published such a recommendation in 1959.*fn13 Several States have enacted new criminal codes

[ 402 U.S. Page 203]

     in the intervening 12 years, some adopting features of the Model Penal Code.*fn14 Other States have modified their laws with respect to murder and the death penalty in other ways.*fn15 None of these States have followed the Model Penal Code and adopted statutory criteria for imposition of the death penalty. In recent years, challenges to standardless jury sentencing have been presented to many state and federal appellate courts. No court has held the challenge good. See n. 8, supra. As petitioners recognize, it requires a strong showing to upset this settled practice of the Nation on constitutional grounds. See Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 678 (1970); Jackman v. Rosenbaum Co., 260 U.S. 22, 31 (1922); cf. Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937).


Petitioners seek to avoid the impact of this history by the observation that jury sentencing discretion in capital cases was introduced as a mechanism for dispensing mercy -- a means for dealing with the rare case in which the death penalty was thought to be unjustified. Now, they assert, the death penalty is imposed on far fewer than half the defendants found guilty of capital crimes. The state and federal legislatures which provide for jury discretion in capital sentencing have, it is said, implicitly

[ 402 U.S. Page 204]

     determined that some -- indeed, the greater portion -- of those guilty of capital crimes should be permitted to live. But having made that determination, petitioners argue, they have stopped short -- the legislatures have not only failed to provide a rational basis for distinguishing the one group from the other, cf. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), but they have failed even to suggest any basis at all. Whatever the merits of providing such a mechanism to take account of the unforeseeable case calling for mercy, as was the original purpose, petitioners contend the mechanism is constitutionally intolerable as a means of selecting the extraordinary cases calling for the death penalty, which is its present-day function.

In our view, such force as this argument has derives largely from its generality. Those who have come to grips with the hard task of actually attempting to draft means of channeling capital sentencing discretion have confirmed the lesson taught by the history recounted above. To identify before the fact those characteristics of criminal homicides and their perpetrators which call for the death penalty, and to express these characteristics in language which can be fairly understood and applied by the sentencing authority, appear to be tasks which are beyond present human ability.

Thus the British Home Office, which before the recent abolition of capital punishment in that country had the responsibility for selecting the cases from England and Wales which should receive the benefit of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, observed:

"The difficulty of defining by any statutory provision the types of murder which ought or ought not to be punished by death may be illustrated by reference to the many diverse considerations to which the Home Secretary has regard in deciding whether to recommend clemency. No simple formula can take account of the innumerable degrees of culpability,

[ 402 U.S. Page 205]

     and no formula which fails to do so can claim to be just or satisfy public opinion." 1-2 Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, Minutes of Evidence 13 (1949).

The Royal Commission accepted this view, and although it recommended a change in British practice to provide for discretionary power in the jury to find "extenuating circumstances," that term was to be left undefined; "the decision of the jury would be within their unfettered discretion and in no sense governed by the principles of law." Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949-1953, Cmd. 8932, para. 553 (b). The Commission went on to say, in substantial confirmation of the views of the Home Office:

"No formula is possible that would provide a reasonable criterion for the infinite variety of circumstances that may affect the gravity of the crime of murder. Discretionary judgment on the facts of each case is the only way in which they can be equitably distinguished. This conclusion is borne out by American experience: there the experiment of degrees of murder, introduced long ago, has had to be supplemented by giving to the courts a discretion that in effect supersedes it." Id., at para. 595.

The draftsmen of the Model Penal Code expressly agreed with the conclusion of the Royal Commission that "the factors which determine whether the sentence of death is the appropriate penalty in particular cases are too complex to be compressed within the limits of a simple formula . . . ." Report para. 498, quoted in Model Penal Code, § 201.6, Comment 3, p. 71 (Tent. Draft No. 9, 1959). The draftsmen did think, however, "that it is within the realm of possibility to point to the main circumstances of aggravation and of mitigation that should be weighed and weighed against each other when they are

[ 402 U.S. Page 206]

     presented in a concrete case." Ibid. The circumstances the draftsmen selected, set out in the Appendix to this opinion, were not intended to be exclusive. The Code provides simply that the sentencing authority should "take into account the aggravating and mitigating circumstances enumerated . . . and any other facts that it deems relevant," and that the court should so instruct when the issue was submitted to the jury. Id., at § 210.6 (2) (Proposed Official Draft, 1962).*fn16 The Final Report of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws (1971) recommended entire abolition of the death penalty in federal cases. In a provisional chapter, prepared for the contingency that Congress might decide to retain the death penalty, the Report contains a set of criteria virtually identical with the aggravating and mitigating circumstances listed by the Model Penal Code. With respect to the use to be made of the criteria, the Report provides that: "in deciding whether a sentence of death should be imposed, the court and the jury, if any, may consider the mitigating and aggravating circumstances set forth in the subsections below." Id., at provisional § 3604 (1) (emphasis added).

[ 402 U.S. Page 207]

     It is apparent that such criteria do not purport to provide more than the most minimal control over the sentencing authority's exercise of discretion. They do not purport to give an exhaustive list of the relevant considerations or the way in which they may be affected by the presence or absence of other circumstances. They do not even undertake to exclude constitutionally impermissible considerations.*fn17 And, of course, they provide no protection against the jury determined to decide on whimsy or caprice. In short, they do no more than suggest some subjects for the jury to consider during its deliberations, and they bear witness to the intractable nature of the problem of "standards" which the history of capital punishment has from the beginning reflected. Thus, they indeed caution against this Court's undertaking to establish such standards itself, or to pronounce at large that standards in this realm are constitutionally required.

In light of history, experience, and the present limitations of human knowledge, we find it quite impossible to say that committing to the untrammeled discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death in capital cases is offensive to anything in the Constitution.*fn18 The

[ 402 U.S. Page 208]

     States are entitled to assume that jurors confronted with the truly awesome responsibility of decreeing death for a fellow human will act with due regard for the consequences of their decision and will consider a variety of factors, many of which will have been suggested by the evidence or by the arguments of defense counsel. For a court to attempt to catalog the appropriate factors in this elusive area could inhibit rather than expand the scope of consideration, for no list of circumstances would ever be really complete. The infinite variety of cases and facets to each case would make general standards either meaningless "boiler-plate" or a statement of the obvious that no jury would need.


As we noted at the outset of this opinion, McGautha's trial was in two stages, with the jury considering the issue of guilt before the presentation of evidence and argument on the issue of punishment. Such a procedure is required by the laws of California and of five other States.*fn19 Petitioner Crampton, whose guilt and punishment were determined at a single trial, contends

[ 402 U.S. Page 209]

     that a procedure like California's is compelled by the Constitution as well.

This Court has twice had occasion to rule on separate penalty proceedings in the context of a capital case. In United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570 (1968), we held unconstitutional the penalty provisions of the Federal Kidnaping Act, which we construed to mean that a defendant demanding a jury trial risked the death penalty while one pleading guilty or agreeing to a bench trial faced a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The Government had contended that in order to mitigate this discrimination we should adopt an alternative construction, authorizing the trial judge accepting a guilty plea or jury waiver to convene a special penalty jury empowered to recommend the death sentence. Id., at 572. Our rejection of this contention was not based solely on the fact that it appeared to run counter to the language and legislative history of the Act. "Even on the assumption that the failure of Congress to [provide for the convening of a penalty jury] was wholly inadvertent, it would hardly be the province of the courts to fashion a remedy. Any attempt to do so would be fraught with the gravest difficulties . . . ." Id., at 578-579. We therefore declined "to create from whole cloth a complex and completely novel procedure and to thrust it upon unwilling defendants for the sole purpose of rescuing a statute from a charge of unconstitutionality." Id., at 580. Jackson, however, did not consider the possibility that such a procedure might be constitutionally required in capital cases.

Substantially this result had been sought by the petitioners in Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554 (1967). Like Crampton, Spencer had been tried in a unitary proceeding before a jury which fixed punishment at death. Also like Crampton, Spencer contended that the Due Process

[ 402 U.S. Page 210]

     Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required a bifurcated trial so that evidence relevant solely to the issue of punishment would not prejudice his case on guilt. We rejected this contention, in the following language:

"To say that the two-stage jury trial in the English-Connecticut style is probably the fairest, as some commentators and courts have suggested, and with which we might well agree were the matter before us in a legislative or rule-making context, is a far cry from a constitutional determination that this method of handling the problem is compelled by the Fourteenth Amendment. Two-part jury trials are rare in our jurisprudence; they have never been compelled by this Court as a matter of constitutional law, or even as a matter of federal procedure. With recidivism the major problem that it is, substantial changes in trial procedure in countless local courts around the country would be required were this Court to sustain the contentions made by these petitioners. This we are unwilling to do. To take such a step would be quite beyond the pale of this Court's proper function in our federal system." Id., at 567-568 (footnotes omitted).

Spencer considered the bifurcation issue in connection with the State's introduction of evidence of prior crimes; we now consider the issue in connection with a defendant's choice whether to testify in his own behalf. But even though this case cannot be said to be controlled by Spencer, our opinion there provides a significant guide to decision here.


Crampton's argument for bifurcation runs as follows. Under Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964), and Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), he enjoyed a constitutional right not to be compelled to be a witness

[ 402 U.S. Page 211]

     against himself. Yet under the Ohio single-trial procedure, he could remain silent on the issue of guilt only at the cost of surrendering any chance to plead his case on the issue of punishment. He contends that under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as elaborated in, e. g., Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736 (1948); Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605 (1967); and Mempa v. Rhay, 389 U.S. 128 (1967), he had a right to be heard on the issue of punishment and a right not to have his sentence fixed without the benefit of all the relevant evidence. Therefore, he argues, the Ohio procedure possesses the flaw we condemned in Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 394 (1968); it creates an intolerable tension between constitutional rights. Since this tension can be largely avoided by a bifurcated trial, petitioner contends that there is no legitimate state interest in putting him to the election, and that the single-verdict trial should be held invalid in capital cases.

Simmons, however, dealt with a very different situation from the one which confronted petitioner Crampton, and not everything said in that opinion can be carried over to this case without circumspection. In Simmons we held it unconstitutional for the Federal Government to use at trial the defendant's testimony given on an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence allegedly seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We concluded that to permit such use created an unacceptable risk of deterring the prosecution of marginal Fourth Amendment claims, thus weakening the efficacy of the exclusionary rule as a sanction for unlawful police behavior. This was surely an analytically sufficient basis for decision. However, we went on to observe that the penalty thus imposed on the good-faith assertion of Fourth Amendment rights was "of a kind to which this Court has always been peculiarly

[ 402 U.S. Page 212]

     sensitive," 390 U.S., at 393, for it involved the incrimination of the defendant out of his own mouth.

We found it not a little difficult to support this invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege. We recognized that "as an abstract matter" the testimony might be voluntary, and that testimony to secure a benefit from the Government is not ipso facto "compelled" within the meaning of the Self-Incrimination Clause. The distinguishing feature in Simmons' case, we said, was that "the 'benefit' to be gained is that afforded by another provision of the Bill of Rights." Id., at 393-394. Thus the only real basis for holding that Fifth Amendment policies were involved was the colorable Fourth Amendment claim with which we had begun.

The insubstantiality of the purely Fifth Amendment interests involved in Simmons was illustrated last Term by the trilogy of cases involving guilty pleas: Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970); McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759 (1970); Parker v. North Carolina, 397 U.S. 790 (1970). While in Simmons we relieved the defendant of his "waiver" of Fifth Amendment rights made in order to obtain a benefit to which he was ultimately found not constitutionally entitled, in the trilogy we held the defendants bound by "waivers" of rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments made in order to avoid burdens which, it was ultimately determined, could not constitutionally have been imposed. In terms solely of Fifth Amendment policies, it is apparent that Simmons had a far weaker claim to be relieved of his ill-advised "waiver" than did the defendants in the guilty-plea trilogy. While we have no occasion to question the soundness of the result in Simmons and do not do so, to the extent that its rationale was based on a "tension" between constitutional rights and the policies behind them, the validity of that reasoning must now be regarded as open to question, and it certainly cannot be

[ 402 U.S. Page 213]

     given the broad thrust which is attributed to it by Crampton in the present case.

The criminal process, like the rest of the legal system, is replete with situations requiring "the making of difficult judgments" as to which course to follow. McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S., at 769. Although a defendant may have a right, even of constitutional dimensions, to follow whichever course he chooses, the Constitution does not by that token always forbid requiring him to choose. The threshold question is whether compelling the election impairs to an appreciable extent any of the policies behind the rights involved. Analysis of this case in such terms leads to the conclusion that petitioner has failed to make out his claim of a constitutional violation in requiring him to undergo a unitary trial.


We turn first to the privilege against compelled self-incrimination. The contention is that where guilt and punishment are to be determined by a jury at a single trial the desire to address the jury on punishment unduly encourages waiver of the defendant's privilege to remain silent on the issue of guilt, or, to put the matter another way, that the single-verdict procedure unlawfully compels the defendant to become a witness against himself on the issue of guilt by the threat of sentencing him to death without having heard from him. It is not contended, nor could it be successfully, that the mere force of evidence is compulsion of the sort forbidden by the privilege. See Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78, 83-85 (1970). It does no violence to the privilege that a person's choice to testify in his own behalf may open the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence which is damaging to his case. See Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S., at 561 and n. 7; cf. Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469 (1948). The narrow question left open is whether it is consistent

[ 402 U.S. Page 214]

     with the privilege for the State to provide no means whereby a defendant wishing to present evidence or testimony on the issue of punishment may limit the force of his evidence (and the State's rebuttal) to that issue. We see nothing in the history, policies, or precedents relating to the privilege which requires such means to be available.

So far as the history of the privilege is concerned, it suffices to say that it sheds no light whatever on the subject, unless indeed that which is adverse, resulting from the contrast between the dilemma of which petitioner complains and the historical excesses which gave rise to the privilege. See generally 8 J. Wigmore, Evidence § 2250 (McNaughton rev. ed. 1961); L. Levy, Origins of the Fifth Amendment (1968). Inasmuch as at the time of framing of the Fifth Amendment and for many years thereafter the accused in criminal cases was not allowed to testify in his own behalf, nothing approaching Crampton's dilemma could arise.

The policies of the privilege likewise are remote support for the proposition that defendants should be permitted to limit the effects of their evidence to the issue of punishment. The policies behind the privilege are varied, and not all are implicated in any given application of the privilege. See Murphy v. Waterfront Commission, 378 U.S. 52, 55 (1964); see generally 8 J. Wigmore, supra, at § 2251, and sources cited therein, n. 2. It can safely be said, however, that to the extent these policies provide any guide to decision, see McKay, Book Review, 35 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 1097, 1100-1101 (1960), the only one affected to any appreciable degree is that of "cruelty."

It is undeniably hard to require a defendant on trial for his life and desirous of testifying on the issue of punishment to make nice calculations of the effect of his testimony on the jury's determination of guilt. The issue of cruelty thus arising, however, is less closely akin

[ 402 U.S. Page 215]

     to "the cruel trilemma of self-accusation, perjury or contempt," Murphy v. Waterfront Commission, 378 U.S., at 55, than to the fundamental requirements of fairness and decency embodied in the Due Process Clauses. Whichever label is preferred, appraising such considerations is inevitably a matter of judgment as to which individuals may differ; however, a guide to decision is furnished by the clear validity of analogous choices with which criminal defendants and their attorneys are quite routinely faced.

It has long been held that a defendant who takes the stand in his own behalf cannot then claim the privilege against cross-examination on matters reasonably related to the subject matter of his direct examination. See, e. g., Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, 597-598 (1896); Fitzpatrick v. United States, 178 U.S. 304, 314-316 (1900); Brown v. United States, 356 U.S. 148 (1958). It is not thought overly harsh in such situations to require that the determination whether to waive the privilege take into account the matters which may be brought out on cross-examination. It is also generally recognized that a defendant who takes the stand in his own behalf may be impeached by proof of prior convictions or the like. See Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S., at 561; cf. Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469 (1948); but cf. Luck v. United States, 121 U. S. App. D.C. 151, 348 F.2d 763 (1965); United States v. Palumbo, 401 F.2d 270 (CA2 1968). Again, it is not thought inconsistent with the enlightened administration of criminal justice to require the defendant to weigh such pros and cons in deciding whether to testify.

Further, a defendant whose motion for acquittal at the close of the Government's case is denied must decide whether to stand on his motion or put on a defense, with the risk that in so doing he will bolster the Government case enough for it to support a verdict of guilty.

[ 402 U.S. Page 216]

     we have described. While we recognize the truth of Mr. Justice Frankfurter's insight in Green v. United States, 365 U.S. 301, 304 (1961) (plurality opinion), as to the peculiar immediacy of a personal plea by the defendant for leniency in sentencing, it is also true that the testimony of an accused denying the case against him has considerably more force than counsel's argument that the prosecution's case has not been proved. The relevant differences between sentencing and determination of guilt or innocence are not so great as to call for a difference in constitutional result. Nor does the fact that capital, as opposed to any other, sentencing is in issue seem to us to distinguish this case. See Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 251-252 (1949). Even in non-capital sentencing the sciences of penology, sociology, and psychology have not advanced to the point that sentencing is wholly a matter of scientific calculation from objectively verifiable facts.

We conclude that the policies of the privilege against compelled self-incrimination are not offended when a defendant in a capital case yields to the pressure to testify on the issue of punishment at the risk of damaging his case on guilt. We therefore turn to the converse situation, in which a defendant remains silent on the issue of guilt and thereby loses any opportunity to address the jury personally on punishment.


It is important to identify with particularity the interests which are involved. Petitioner speaks broadly of a right of allocution. This right, of immemorial origin, arose in a context very different from that which confronted petitioner Crampton.*fn20 See generally Barrett,

[ 402 U.S. Page 218]

     Allocution (pts. 1-2), 9 Mo. L. Rev. 115, 232 (1944). It has been preserved in its original form in Ohio and in many other States.*fn21 What petitioner seeks, to be sure for purposes not wholly unrelated to those served by the right of allocution in former times, see Green v. United States, 365 U.S., at 304 (opinion of Frankfurter, J.), is nevertheless a very different procedure occurring in a radically different framework of criminal justice.

Leaving aside the term "allocution," it also appears that petitioner is not claiming the right simply to be heard on the issue of punishment. This Court has not directly determined whether or to what extent the concept of due process of law requires that a criminal defendant wishing to present evidence or argument presumably relevant to the issues involved in sentencing should be permitted to do so.*fn22 Assuming, without deciding,

[ 402 U.S. Page 219]

     that the Constitution does require such an opportunity, there was no denial of such a right in Crampton's case. The Ohio Constitution guarantees defendants the right to have their counsel argue in summation for mercy as well as for acquittal. Shelton v. State, 102 Ohio St. 376, 131 N. E. 704 (1921). The extent to which evidence going solely to the issue of punishment is admissible under Ohio law is unclear, see Ashbrook v. State, 49 Ohio App. 298, 197 N. E. 214 (1935), but in any event it seems apparent that Ohio judges, as one would expect, take a lenient view of the admissibility of evidence offered by a defendant on trial for his life. As the present case illustrates, an accused can put before the jury a great deal of background evidence with at best a tenuous connection ...

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