PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL
APPEALS OF OKLAHOMA
Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496 (1987), this Court
held that "the Eighth Amendment prohibits a capital
sentencing jury from considering victim impact evidence"
that does not "relate directly to the circumstances of
the crime." Id., at 501-502, 507, n. 10. Four
years later, in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808
(1991), the Court granted certiorari to reconsider that ban
on "Victim impact' evidence relating to the personal
characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the
crimes on the victim's family." Id., at
817. The Court held that Booth was wrong to conclude
that the Eighth Amendment required such a ban.
Payne, 501 U.S. at 827. That holding was expressly
"limited to" this particular type of victim impact
testimony. Id., at 830, n. 2. "Booth
also held that the admission of a victim's family
members' characterizations and opinions about the crime,
the defendant, and the appropriate sentence violates the
Eighth Amendment, " but no such evidence was presented
in Payne, so the Court had no occasion to reconsider
that aspect of the decision. Ibid.
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has held that Payne
"implicitly overruled that portion of
Booth regarding characterizations of the defendant
and opinions of the sentence." Conover v.
State, 933 P.2d 904, 920 (1997) (emphasis added); see
also Ledbetter v. State, 933 P.2d 880, 890-891
(Okla. Crim. App. 1997). The decision below presents a
straightforward application of that interpretation of
Payne. A jury convicted petitioner Shaun Michael
of three counts of first-degree murder for the 2010 killing
of Katrina Griffin and her two children. The State of
Oklahoma sought the death penalty. Over Bosse's
objection, the State asked three of the victims'
relatives to recommend a sentence to the jury. All three
recommended death, and the jury agreed. Bosse appealed,
arguing that this testimony about the appropriate sentence
violated the Eighth Amendment under Booth. The
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his sentence,
concluding that there was "no error." 2015 OK CR
14, ¶¶ 57-58, 360 P.3d 1203, 1226-1227. We grant
certiorari and the motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, and now vacate the judgment of the Oklahoma
Court of Criminal Appeals.
is this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its
precedents." United States v. Hatter, 532 U.S.
557, 567 (2001) (quoting State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522
U.S. 3, 20 (1997); internal quotation marks omitted); see
Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express,
Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989). The Oklahoma Court of
Criminal Appeals has recognized that Payne
"specifically acknowledged its holding did not
affect" Booth's prohibition on opinions
about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate
punishment. Ledbetter, 933 P.2d at 890-891. That
should have ended its inquiry into whether the Eighth
Amendment bars such testimony; the court was wrong to go
further and conclude that Payne implicitly overruled
Booth in its entirety. "Our decisions remain
binding precedent until we see fit to reconsider them,
regardless of whether subsequent cases have raised doubts
about their continuing vitality." Hohn v. United
States, 524 U.S. 236, 252-253 (1998).
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals remains bound by
Booth's prohibition on characterizations and
opinions from a victim's family members about the crime,
the defendant, and the appropriate sentence unless this Court
reconsiders that ban. The state court erred in con- eluding
State argued in opposing certiorari that, even if the
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was wrong in its victim
impact ruling, that error did not affect the jury's
sentencing determination, and the defendant's rights were
in any event protected by the mandatory sentencing review in
capital cases required under Oklahoma law. See Brief in
Opposition 14-15. Those contentions may be addressed on
remand to the extent the court below deems appropriate.
judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is
vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not
inconsistent with this opinion.
Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Alito joins, concurring.
in Booth v. Maryland,482 U.S. 496 (1987), that the
Eighth Amendment prohibits a court from admitting the
opinions of the victim's family members about the
appropriate sentence in a capital case. The Court today
correctly observes that our decision in Payne v.
Tennessee,501 U.S. 808 (1991), did not expressly
overrule this aspect of Booth. Because "it is
this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its
precedents, " State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S.
3, 20 (1997), the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals erred in
holding that Payne invalidated Booth in its
entirety. In vacating the decision below, this Court says