HOPKINS, WARDEN v. REEVES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
96-1693
Petitioner 
Hopkins, Warden
Respondent 
Reeves
Opinion 
Advocates
(On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, argued the cause for the respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

Randolph K. Reeves was charged with two counts of felony murder for the sexual assault and murder of Janet Mesner and Victoria Lamm, both of Lincoln, Nebraska. Under Nebraska law, felony murder is a form of first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of certain felonies, including sexual assault. A conviction for felony murder renders a defendant eligible for the death penalty; however the jury does not charge the defendant because capital sentencing is a judicial function. In his trial Reeves requested the jury be given other options rather than just felony murder. The trial court judge denied Reeves's motion and he was subsequently convicted on both counts. A three-judge panel sentenced Reeves to death. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentences. After exhausting his state remedies, Reeves filed a federal habeas corpus petition that the trial court's failure to give the requested instructions was unconstitutional. The District Court granted relief on an unrelated due process claim. The Court of Appeals rejected the lower court's decision, but held that a constitutional error had occurred.

Question 

Does the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require jurors in capital cases to be given an option to convict a defendant of offenses that are not lesser-included offenses of the crime charged? Did the Nebraska trial court err in failing to give the requested jury instructions?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Hopkins, Warden, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

No and no. The Court held 8-1, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, that (1) in capital cases, a state trial court is not required, under the Constitution, to instruct the jury on offenses that are not lesser included offenses of the charged crime under state law; and (2) the Nebraska trial court did not commit federal constitutional error in failing to give the requested jury instructions as to second-degree murder and manslaughter.

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HOPKINS, WARDEN v. REEVES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 11 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1693>.
HOPKINS, WARDEN v. REEVES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1693 (last visited September 11, 2014).
"HOPKINS, WARDEN v. REEVES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 11, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1693.