Karen A. Steele

Document Type



Lockett made clear what was constitutionally unacceptable in capital sentencing statutes (limiting the range of mitigating factors to be considered) while affirmatively heralding the significance and breadth of mitigating factors unique to the defendant that must be affirmatively and independently considered by jurors, courts and counsel; the inverse correlation between mitigating factors and disproportionate sentencing; and the interrelationship between mitigating factors and narrowing—all in an effort to provide a “meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which the death penalty is imposed from the many cases in which it is not.” The threatened and actual use of “double-edged” aspects of mitigation evidence imperil the fulfillment of Lockett’s mandate as does the move away from narrowing through legislatively determined offense definitions. Special jury instructions have proven an imperfect solution to eliminating the peril of “double-edged” evidence, leading to the recognition of categorical exemptions. To ensure that death sentences will not be imposed despite factors which may call for a less severe penalty, future possible categorical exemptions and the risk posed by reliance on juror findings for both eligibility and selection should be evaluated through continued recognition and adherence to Lockett’s fundamental precepts.