Kansas v. Reginald Carr

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: March 30, 2015
  • Case #: 14-450
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 329 P.3d 1195 (Kan. 2014)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Eight Amendment requires either severance of co-defendants' cases at sentencing or affirmative instructions to sentencing juries that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Respondent and his brother were convicted of a number of heinous crimes and sentenced to death in Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the death sentence, finding constitutional error in the trial court’s procedure. The Kansas court held that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires a sentencing jury to be instructed that mitigating factors need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the Eighth Amendment was also violated by the trial court’s refusal to sever the brothers’ sentencing proceedings.

Kansas petitioned for, and was granted, certiorari on these two questions.

To answer the first question, Kansas points to Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 650–51 (1990), where the Court stated that the Eight Amendment is not violated by requiring a defendant to prove mitigating circumstances so long as the State’s burden is not lessened. Relying on that as well as the holdings of Blystone v. Pennsylvania, 494 U.S. 299 (1990), and Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006), Kansas argues that “there is neither a constitutional requirement that states adopt a particular burden of proof, nor a proscription against a particular burden.” Therefore, the Eighth Amendment cannot require an affirmative instruction that mitigating circumstances be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

To answer the second question, Kansas argues that the Court has never required severance in capital punishment cases. Further, to require severance would go against Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534 (1993), where the Court held that any prejudice is curable through the use of a proper jury instruction. Because the sentencing jury was instructed in this case to consider each brother separately, any error in failing to sever the case was harmless.

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