Justices Side With Killer on Unfair Sentencing

     WASHINGTON (CN) — A man on death row in Oklahoma for murdering a mother and her two children faces resentencing after a summary upheaval Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
     After Shaun Bosse was convicted for the 2010 killings, three relatives of the victims made sentencing recommendations to the jury.
     The Supreme Court concluded Tuesday that their statements about his punishment violated the 1987 decision Booth v. Maryland, which bars capital-sentencing juries from considering victim-impact evidence that does not “relate directly to the circumstances of the crime.”
     Though Booth holds such testimony as unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, the court offered some exceptions to this ban with the 1991 ruling in Payne v. Tennessee.
     Despite the limits of Payne, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly held that Payne “implicitly overruled that portion of Booth regarding characterizations of the defendant and opinions of the sentence.”
     The Oklahoma Court of Appeals offered “a straightforward application of that interpretation of Payne,” according to today’s ruling, when it affirmed Bosse’s sentence last year.
     At just 3 pages, Tuesday’s ruling notes that Payne overturned Booth’s ban on “evidence relating to the personal characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the crimes on the victim’s family.”
     “That holding was expressly ‘limited to’ this particular type of victim impact testimony,” the unsigned opinion continues.
     Though the Booth case did not involve such evidence, the 1991 ruling expressly barred the family members of victims from offering “characterizations and opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence,” the justices wrote Tuesday.
     When Bosse petitioned the Supreme Court to review his case, Oklahoma argued in opposition that its possible error with regard to the victim-impact statement was harmless.
     The state failed, however, to sway the court that any error “did not affect the jury’s sentencing determination, and the defendant’s rights were in any event protected by the mandatory sentencing review in capital cases required under Oklahoma law.”
     “Those contentions may be addressed on remand to the extent the court below deems appropriate,” the ruling concludes. “The judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
     Justice Samuel Alito joined Justice Clarence Thomas in a brief concurring opinion on the case.
     “Because ‘it is this court’s prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents,’ the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals erred in holding that Payne invalidated Booth in its entirety,” Thomas wrote. “In vacating the decision below, this court says nothing about whether Booth was correctly decided or whether Payne swept away its analytical foundations. I join the court’s opinion with this understanding.”
     

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