Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U.S. 430 (1981)

2012-01-11 11:14:50

Bullington was indicted and convicted of capital murder. Under Missouri law, this meant that he would receive either death or life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for fifty years. In addition, under Missouri law, there was a separate presentence hearing wherein the prosecutor must prove to the trial jury the existence of aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, in order for the death penalty to be imposed. The jury imposed a life sentence. Bullington appealed and was granted a new trial because of an error in the jury selection process.

The prosecutor, then, in the second trial, sought the death penalty. Bullington objected, arguing that Benton v. Maryland (1969), held that the double jeopardy clause barred the seeking of the death penalty in a second trial when the first jury did not impose it. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the prosecutor, stating that double jeopardy did not apply in this case.

This case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the judgment of the Missouri Supreme Court was reversed. The justices felt that because the Sentencing proceeding at the petitioner’s first trial was like the trial of guilt or innocence, the protection of the double jeopardy clause was also available to him at retrial. This overruled Stroud v. United States (1919), in which the Court stated that a defendant whose conviction is reversed may receive a more severe sentence at retrial than he received at his first trial.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 794 (1969) 
  • Stroud v. United States, 251 U.S. 15 (1919) 

See also Capital Punishment; Double Jeopardy (V): Early History, Background, Framing