BOOTH v. MARYLAND

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
86-5020
Petitioner 
Booth
Respondent 
Maryland
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

John Booth was convicted of the murders of an elderly couple and chose to have the jury determine his sentence instead of the judge. A Maryland statute required that a victim impact statement "describing the effect of the crime on the victim and his family" be included in the pre-sentence report in felony cases. In this case, the victim impact statement described the victims, the impact of the crime on their family, and the family members' opinions of the defendant and the crime.

Question 

Does the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects a defendant from cruel and unusual punishment, prohibit a jury from considering a victim impact statement during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Booth, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Yes. The Court found that the victim impact statement created "a constitutionally unacceptable risk" and violated the Eighth Amendment. Justice Powell argued that in a capital case, the jury's sentencing task is based on the defendant as a unique individual and not on the character or impact of the crime on the victim's family. Allowing the content of a victim impact statement to influence the jury could lead it to choose the death penalty for reasons which "were irrelevant to the [defendant's] decision to kill," thus diverting attention from the facts of the crime. Furthermore, concluded Powell, introducing the "emotionally-charged opinions" of family members into the process would erode the "reasoned decisionmaking" which is crucial in capital cases.

Cite this Page
BOOTH v. MARYLAND. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_86_5020>.
BOOTH v. MARYLAND, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_86_5020 (last visited October 29, 2014).
"BOOTH v. MARYLAND," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 29, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_86_5020.