JONES v. UNITED STATES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
97-9361
Petitioner 
Jones
Respondent 
United States
Advocates
(Fort Worth, Texas, argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

Louis Jones, Jr., kidnapped Private Tracie Joy McBride at gunpoint from the Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. After sexually assaulting McBride, Jones killed her with repeated blows to the head from a tire iron. The Federal Government charged Jones with kidnapping resulting in the victim's death, in violation of 18 USC section 1201(a)(2), an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death. Pursuant to the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, the government sought the death sentence. A jury found Jones guilty. The jury unanimously recommended the death penalty at Jones's sentencing hearing. The District Court imposed the death sentence in accordance with the jury's recommendation. The court refused Jones' request to include in the jury instructions an instruction that in the event of a jury deadlock concerning what sentence to impose -- either death or life imprisonment without possibility of release -- the District Court would impose no less of a sentence than of life imprisonment without possibility of release. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question 

Is a death-sentence-eligible defendant entitled to a jury instruction as to the effect of jury deadlock? Is there a reasonable likelihood that a jury might believe that a death-sentence-eligible defendant would receive a court- imposed sentence less than life imprisonment in the event that they could not reach a unanimous sentence recommendation?

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

No and no. In an opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that Jones was not entitled to an instruction as to the effect of jury deadlock. The Court held that the Eighth Amendment does not require such an instruction and the Court declined to exercise its supervisory powers to require such an instruction in every capital case. Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that, "in a capital sentencing proceeding, the Government has 'a strong interest in having the jury express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death.' [A] charge to the jury of the sort proposed by petitioner might well have the effect of undermining this strong governmental interest." Furthermore, the Court concluded that there was no reasonable likelihood that the jury had been led to believe that Jones would receive a court-imposed sentence less than life imprisonment in the event that the jury could not reach a unanimous sentence recommendation. Writing for the dissenting minority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed the view that, "'[a]ccurate sentencing information is an indispensable prerequisite to a [jury's] determination of whether a defendant shall live or die.' That 'indispensable prerequisite' was not satisfied in this case."

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JONES v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 04 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_97_9361>.
JONES v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_97_9361 (last visited April 4, 2014).
"JONES v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 4, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_97_9361.