Victim's Family Members May Not Argue in Favor of Death Supreme Court Reiterates

In a three-page per curiam (unauthored) opinion in Bosse v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court reversed the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to allow victims’ relatives to recommend to the jury that they sentence a defendant to death. Shaun Michael Bosse killed Katrina Griffin and her two children.

In Booth v. Maryland (1987) the Supreme Court held that during sentencing capital juries could only hear victim impact evidence that relates directly to the circumstances of the crime. Four years later in Payne v. Tennessee the Court changed course holding that capital juries could hear evidence relating to the personal characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the crime on the victim’s family.

In Payne the Court stated that it didn’t reconsider its holding in Booth that admission of a victim’s family members’ characterizations and opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence violates the Eighth Amendment. Regardless, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held that Payneimplicitly overruled that portion of Booth regarding characterizations of the defendant and opinions of the sentence.”

The Supreme Court reminded the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals that the Supreme Court alone overrules its precedent. “The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has recognized that Payne ‘specifically acknowledged its holding did not affect’ Booth’s prohibition on opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate punishment. That should have ended its inquiry into whether the Eighth Amendment bars such testimony; the court was wrong to go further and conclude that Payne implicitly overruled Booth in its entirety.”