Buchanan v. Kentucky

483 U. S. 402

June 24, 1987

In the course of robbing a gas station, David Buchanan and Kevin Stanford repeatedly raped a 20 year old woman. Stanford then murdered the victim. The pair was tried jointly, and because Kentucky sought the death penalty for Stanford, the jury was ‘death qualified’ – i.e., no one who objected completely to the death penalty was allowed on it. Buchanan complained that having a ‘death qualified’ jury for his non-capital offenses was unfair, since it was more likely to convict. He also objected to the admission of statements by a psychologist who had performed a competency evaluation on him. They had been introduced by the prosecution to rebut statements from a different psychologist, who was testifying on Buchanan’s behalf.

The Court rejected both of Buchanan’s claims 6-3. With regard to the jury, Blackmun stressed the logistical, financial, and equitable problems that would result from having the co-defendants tried separately, with different juries. Furthermore, because a ‘death-qualified’ jury had been previously ruled a fair jury for a capital defendant, there was a Constitutional presumption of fairness for a non-capital defendant as well. With regard to the psychologist statements, Buchanan had opened up the door by having another psychologist testify in his favor – the state therefore had the right to rebut. Importantly, Buchanan had consented to the interview with the psychologist whose statements he objected to. Buchanan’s lawyer knew of this interview. Finally, none of the statements touched the crime at hand, skirting any self-incrimination issues.

Marshall dissented, and was joined by Brennan and Stevens. On the jury issue, Marshall found the ‘death qualification’ both highly prejudicial, and unnecessary. Because joint trials with one capital and one non-capital defendant happened so rarely, the extra cost and difficulty of different juries was ultimately an inadequate reason for consolidation. On the psychologist issue, Marshall argued that the statements were inapposite because they went only to his competency for trial, and not to his mental state at the time of the crime. Because neither Buchanan nor his lawyer could have anticipated the statements being used in the manner they were, they should have been ruled inadmissible (Stevens did not join this section – probably because he thought it was moot in light of the jury issue).

I think I’ve reached the point where the Brennan/Marshall shtick in criminal cases has finally lost all residue of charm and heroism. For a while it was still vaguely admirable in a strange way. But now I only find it tiring, pathetic, obtuse, and morally disgusting. Isaiah 5:20 summed it up: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

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