23 February 2006 :convicted murderers facing the death penalty do not have a constitutional right at sentencing to offer new evidence seeking to cast doubt on their guilt, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously.
The justices said the Oregon Supreme Court had been wrong to rule that a defendant has a constitutional right try to avert a death sentence by presenting new alibi evidence during a sentencing hearing. Justice Stephen Breyer said in the opinion that the Constitution does not give a capital-case defendant any such right, and a state can limit innocence-related evidence at sentencing to only that introduced at the original trial.
The case involved Randy Lee Guzek, who was convicted on two counts of murder in the 1987 robbery and killing of a couple at their home in rural Oregon. He was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court's decision means Guzek's case will go back to the Oregon courts for further proceedings, and he can still face the death sentence. The Oregon Supreme Court had overturned the death sentence and sent the case back for a new sentencing. It said alibi evidence from Guzek's mother, that he was not at the crime scene, was admissible at the penalty phase of the trial.
The state court ruled that the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment required that a defendant be allowed to present at sentencing any evidence that mitigated against imposition of the death penalty.
Breyer said the evidence that Guzek wants to present was inconsistent with his prior conviction and was available at the time of his original trial. The evidence sheds no light on the manner in which Guzek committed the crime and sentencing traditionally concerns how, not whether, a defendant has committed the crime, Breyer said. He said the parties previously litigated the issue of whether Guzek committed the crime, and the law generally bars that issue from being litigated again at sentencing.
While Guzek cannot call his mother to testify at sentencing about the alibi, Breyer said Oregon law gives Guzek the right to present to the sentencing jury all the evidence of innocence from the original trial, including transcripts of the mother's testimony that she was with him the night of the crime.