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Case Basics
Docket No. 
LaRoyce Lathair Smith
(argued the cause for the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
(argued the cause for California, et al., as amici curiae, supporting the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

LaRoyce Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned his death sentence and sent the case back to state court because of a judge's improper jury instruction. (See Smith v. Texas, No. 04-5323.) Nevertheless, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals re-imposed the sentence, holding that the erroneous instruction had not done any "egregious harm" to the fairness of Smith's sentencing. The Texas court found that the jury had still been able to consider all relevant mitigating evidence, despite the unconstitutional instruction. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case a second time.


1) Was the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals correct in holding that the improper instruction given to Smith's jury was harmless error and not sufficient to invalidate his death sentence?

2) Was the Texas court correct to require a standard of "egregious harm" when evaluating whether an unconstitutional jury instruction should invalidate a death sentence?

Decision: 5 votes for Smith, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

Unanswered and no. The Court ruled 5-4 that the jury instructions did not give meaningful effect to Smith's mitigating evidence, and that a subsequent corrective instruction was not sufficient to correct the error. The Texas court had ruled that because Smith had abandoned his objection to the instructions in the course of the proceedings, he must show that "egregious harm" had been done to his trial. The Court criticized the Fifth Circuit for misreading the record and the Court's instructions: "The requirement that Smith show egregious harm was predicated, [...] on a misunderstanding of the federal right Smith asserts [...]" Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority.

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SMITH v. TEXAS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 July 2015. <>.
SMITH v. TEXAS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited July 29, 2015).
"SMITH v. TEXAS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 29, 2015,