Sumner v. Shuman

483 U. S. 66

June 22, 1987

Raymond Wallace Shuman was imprisoned for life without parole for first degree murder. While in prison, he murdered a fellow inmate. Under Nevada law, murdering an inmate while serving life without parole results in an automatic death sentence. Shuman sued, arguing that the Eighth Amendment requires individualized sentencing in every circumstance.

Blackmun wrote for the six Justice majority. He reviewed the Court’s precedents since Gregg, and found individualized consideration to be a fundamental ingredient for death sentencing, because of “respect for humanity,” or some nonsense like that. Blackmun fretted that Shuman could not introduce mitigating evidence under the Lockett-Eddings line of cases, and argued that even Shuman’s second murder might possess important mitigating circumstances. Blackmun was unmoved by Nevada’s claim that Shuman might escape effectual punishment, and responded that he could still potentially be sentenced to death.

White dissented, joined by Rehnquist and Scalia. He stated the common sense observation that no amount of mitigating evidence, or lack of aggravating evidence, could possibly make imposition of the death penalty “cruel and unusual” in cases where a lifer without parole murders a fellow inmate. And he’s absolutely right. This is yet another cowardly anti-justice decision from a Court that plainly hates the basic concept of punishing evil. I’d say more, but it would be mere repetition of what I’ve already said in the term’s numerous other death penalty cases, so I’ll leave it at that.

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