Payne v. Tennessee

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501 U.S. 808 (1991), argued 24 Apr. 1991, decided 27 June 1991 by vote of 6 to 3; Rehnquist for the Court, O’Connor, joined by White and Kennedy, concurring; Scalia, joined in part by O’Connor and Kennedy, concurring; Souter, joined by Kennedy, concurring; Marshall, joined by Blackmun, and Stevens, also joined by Blackmun, in dissent.

During the penalty phase of Payne's capital trial, the state presented the grandmother of a surviving victim, who stated that her grandson missed his mother and sister—both of whom were killed in Payne's attack. The prosecutor also referred to the effects of the crimes on the victims’ family in his closing argument. Payne was sentenced to death. The Court held that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit a capital-sentencing jury from considering “victim impact” evidence, even though the defense may often find it prudent not to attempt a rebuttal. In so-doing, the Court overruled Booth v. Maryland (1987), which had disallowed victim-impact testimony, and South Carolina v. Gathers (1989), which had prohibited a prosecutor from even referring to victim impact.

Michael L. Radelet

Subjects: Law.

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