Payne v. Tennessee
|Payne v. Tennessee|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued April 24, 1991
Decided June 27, 1991
|Full case name||Pervis Tyrone Payne v. Tennessee|
|Citations||501 U.S. 808 (more)
111 S.Ct. 2597; 115 L.Ed.2d 720
|Prior history||Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Tennessee|
|The admission of a victim impact statement does not violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment|
|Majority||Rehnquist, joined by White, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter|
|Concurrence||O'Connor, joined by White, Kennedy|
|Concurrence||Scalia, joined by O'Connor, Kennedy|
|Concurrence||Souter, joined by Kennedy|
|Dissent||Marshall, joined by Blackmun|
|Dissent||Stevens, joined by Blackmun|
Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) was a United States Supreme Court decision which held that testimony on the form of a victim impact statement is admissible during the sentencing phase of a trial and, in death penalty cases, does not violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. Payne overruled two of the Courts' precedents: Booth v. Maryland and South Carolina v. Gathers.
Pervis Tyrone Payne was the defendant in this trial prosecuted in Tennessee. On Saturday, June 27, 1987, after drinking lemonade, taking cocaine, and reading pornography, he attempted to rape an acquaintance of his, Charisse Christopher, and finally he murdered her and her two-year-old daughter. Neighbors heard noises and yelling, and called the police. Upon arriving, a police officer "immediately encountered Payne who was leaving the apartment building, so covered in blood that he appeared to be 'sweating blood'".
The police found "a horrifying scene." Forty-two stab wounds were on Charisse's body. He had stabbed her three-year-old son Nicholas dozens of times but he was alive. He ran away to his girlfriend's house, and discarded his clothes, which were soaked in blood. Meanwhile, Nicholas Christopher held in his intestines while the emergency medical technicians transported him to the emergency room. There was significant physical evidence implicating the defendant: Payne's fingerprints on cans of malt liquor, the victims' blood soaked into his clothes, and his property left at the scene of the crime.
Dozens of witnesses, including the police, friends, the neighbors, and experts, testified at the trial. The evidence that he perpetrated the attacks was "overwhelming," according to Chief Justice Rehnquist. Payne denied the charges, claiming he came upon the bloody victims. The district attorney stressed, in his closing arguments, the senselessness of the killings, the violence displayed by the defendant, and the innocence of the victims. The jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and a related charge.
At the sentencing phase, the judge allowed both the public defender to adduce mitigating testimony from the defendant's friends and family, and the district attorney (DA) to introduce evidence from the grandmother/mother of the victims. Payne appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and then asked for a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court. Cert was granted, with the court noting that it would have to reconsider its past precedent. The case was argued on April 24, 1991 and decided on June 27, 1991.
Issues and holding
The main issue in the case was whether, as the Court had previously held, damaging testimony in the form of a victim impact questioning could be admissible in the sentencing phase of an otherwise fair state trial.
The defendant's guilt or innocence was not in issue at this hearing, as only the legal issues of admissibility of evidence, the victims' rights, and stare decisis were to be decided. The Court legally presumed that Payne was, in fact, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which was, in any case, not on appeal in that instance.
The court held that testimony on the form of a victim impact statement was admissible and constitutional in death penalty cases, thus expressly overruling two of that courts' precedents: Booth v. Maryland (1987) and South Carolina v. Gathers (1989).
The court's decision stated a number of strands of reasons for its rationale in deciding this case:
- The sentencer has the right to consider all relevant evidence, with the rules of evidence.
- The principle that punishment should fit the crime is relevant here, and this was a particularly aggravated and savage murder.
- That stare decisis is "not an inexorable command", and the Supreme Court, since Marbury v. Madison (1803) has decided what the law is.
- Because the defendant has the right to present mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase, the prosecution should be able to present aggravating evidence about the victim. (Justice Stevens, in dissent, characterizes this argument as a non sequitur. The defendant has constitutional rights because he is on trial - the victim is not on trial and has no constitutional rights in the proceeding.)
- The trial was fair in all respects, and mitigating evidence ought to be presented with damaging evidence when available.
Payne has had a significant, ongoing impact in victim's rights, criminology, the law, the Court itself, and the lives of the parties involved.
The case allowed victim impact statements in US courts, and the overwhelming majority of states now allow such use in the sentencing phase of trials. The whole area of victim's rights was boosted by this case. One scholar recently wrote:
Among the most significant products of the Victim's Rights Movement over the past decade has been the revival of the use of victim impact evidence—evidence relating to the victim's personal characteristics and the emotional impact of the crime on others--during capital sentencing. With its decision in Payne v. Tennessee (1991), the US Supreme Court not only reversed its own recent precedent holding such evidence to be unconstitutional, it left only a vague and malleable standard for limiting its admissibility.—Joel F. Donahue 
Rehnquist's reliance on this image of the perpetrator as a rabid animal that is foaming at the mouth helps to justify the violence of Payne's death sentence while it also obscures that violence. The majority opinion in Payne, like the prosecutor's arguments before the jury, hinges on contrasting little Nicholas to Pervis Payne, juxtaposing Nicholas's smallness and vulnerability to Payne's murderous and inhuman power. The smaller and more innocent the victim, the stronger and more guilty the defendant appears.—Jennifer K. Wood 
The case was one in a line of cases that showed how the Rehnquist Court shifted to the conservative or "right" on criminal cases. The case is cited by at least one major college text book as a "capstone case."
Payne's execution was stayed in April 2007, and after protracted litigation, again scheduled in December 2007, and stayed again that month. Payne is still alive as of January 2010 and is on death row for the double homicide.
- Crime in the United States
- Crime victim advocacy program
- Effects of rape and aftermath
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 501
- List of United States Supreme Court cases
- Lists of United States Supreme Court cases by volume
- List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Rehnquist Court
- Victim Support
- Victim study
- Payne was African-american and the Christophers were Caucasian, but this was not in the facts in the appeals.
- Facts are re-worded from the decision, q.v., Findlaw.com. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- "Victims of Crime - Victims' Rights" on Library Index website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- AP, "Excerpts from Rehnquist opinions: Chief justice oversaw conservative shift in court during tenure," September 4, 2005, found at MSNBC.com website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Case Brief at JRank.org. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Myers, Linda (2002-02-28). "Forum examines effect of victim impact statements on death penalty verdicts". Cornell News. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
- Donahoe, Joel F. (1999). "The Changing Role of Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Cases". Western Criminology Review 2 (1). Retrieved 2008-09-22.
- Wood, Jennifer K, "Refined raw: The symbolic violence of victims' rights reforms," College Literature, Winter 1999, found at BNet FindArticles.com. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Schmalleger, Frank (2006). Criminal Law Today: An Introduction with Capstone Cases (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. pp. 34–42. ISBN 0-13-170287-4.
- Pro death Penalty website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- In re Pervis T. Payne (2007), list found at Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts government website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.[dead link]
- Tneesse Corrections Department website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Life on Death Row website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Capital Defense Weekly website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Payne v. Bredesen, No. 3-07-0714 (U.S.D.S. M.D. Tenn. 2007), found at US District Court, Middle District of Tennessee government website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Jared Allen, "Stay granted for Dec. 12 execution", Nashville City Paper, December 7, 2007, found at Nashville City Paper website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Tennessee Department of Corrections government website. Retrieved September 22, 2008.