Gardner v. Florida, 430 U.S. 349 (1977)

Gardner was argued November 30, 1976, and decided on March 22, 1977, by a vote of seven to two. Justice Stevens wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Stewart and Powell; Chief Justice Burger and Justices White and Blackmun concurred; Justice Brennan concurred and dissented; Justices Marshall and Rehnquist dissented. Although the Court had previously condoned Florida’s capital sentencing procedure in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976), Gardner held a judge’s use of a confidential presentence report in sentencing a defendant to death to be unconstitutional. After he was convicted of murdering his wife, Gardner’s capital jury returned an advisory verdict of life in prison. Thereafter, relying in part on a pre-sentence investigation report with a confidential portion not disclosed to defense counsel, the trial judge overrode the jury’s verdict and sentenced Gardner to death.

The Supreme Court concluded that Gardner was denied due process of law because he was sentenced to death on the basis of information that he did not have the opportunity to deny or explain. In response to Florida’s contention that confidentiality was required to facilitate the availability of personal information for the pre-sentence report, Justice Stevens replied that the interest in reliability outweighed any such desire for information. Justice Stevens reminded Florida that a judge’s unbridled discretion in sentencing was forbidden under Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), and thus full disclosure of the basis for a death sentence was required so that a reviewing court could examine the considerations motivating the sentence in every case in which it was imposed. Gardner pronounced that due process required the full disclosure of the information upon which any death sentence was based.

EARL F. MARTIN

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
  • Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976)

See also Capital Punishment; Capital Punishment and the Equal Protection Clause Cases; Capital Punishment: Due Process Limits; Capital Punishment: History and Politics

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