ABDUL-KABIR v. QUARTERMAN

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
05-11284
Petitioner 
Jalil Abdul-Kabir, fka Ted Calvin Cole
Respondent 
Nathaniel Quarterman, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division
Consolidation 
Brent Ray Brewer v. Nathaniel Quarterman, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, No. 05-11287
Advocates
(Attorney for Respondent, Attorney for Respondent)
(Attorney for Respondent)
(Attorney for Petitioner, Attorney for Petitioner)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Jalil Abdul-Kabir was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At his sentencing, Abdul-Kabir presented mitigating evidence of his destructive family background and neurological defects. The jury was instructed to give effect to all mitigating evidence by making yes-or-no determinations on Texas's two "special issues" for capital sentencing: the deliberateness of the crime and the future dangerousness of the criminal. After his sentencing, Abdul-Kabir filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal District Court, arguing that the special issues had not allowed the jury to give full consideration and effect to his mitigating evidence as required by the Supreme Court in Penry v. Johnson. The District Court denied Abdul-Kabir habeas relief, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

The Fifth Circuit held that the mitigating evidence was not "constitutionally relevant," and that in any case the jury could have given it consideration as part of the "deliberateness" and "dangerousness" determinations. After the Supreme Court rejected the "constitutional relevance" test, the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed its decision that Abdul-Kabir's mitigating evidence had been given full consideration and effect under the Texas special issues. The case was consolidated with Brewer v. Quarterman No. 05-11287.

Question 

Do Texas's "special issue" jury instructions for capital sentencing allow jurors to give full consideration and effect to mitigating evidence about a defendant's destructive family background and mental defects, as required by the Eighth Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Abdul-Kabir, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 28 USC 2241-2255 (habeas corpus)

No. The Court ruled 5-4 that the Texas jury instructions conflicted with Supreme Court precedents requiring that jurors be given the opportunity "to give meaningful consideration and effect to all mitigating evidence that might provide a basis for refusing to impose the death penalty." The majority opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens found Texas's scheme of yes-or-no determinations of deliberateness and future dangerousness to be far too constraining. This was particularly true when the defense offers "double edged" evidence, which can be mitigating or aggravating depending on the jury's interpretation. The Court faulted the Fifth Circuit for not recognizing that Abdul-Kabir had presented mitigating evidence of his deprived childhood and his lack of self-control in order to show his relative lack of moral culpability - not to dispute either the deliberateness of his crime or his likely future dangerousness (which indeed might be aggravated by the evidence). Since the instruction did not allow the jury to consider the evidence as mitigating in the sense Abdul-Kabir intended, it was unconstitutional.

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ABDUL-KABIR v. QUARTERMAN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_11284>.
ABDUL-KABIR v. QUARTERMAN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_11284 (last visited November 10, 2014).
"ABDUL-KABIR v. QUARTERMAN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_11284.