Mental Condition as Mitigating Evidence in Criminal Sentencing

Voluntary intoxication instruction upheld

Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 477, 190 L. Ed. 2d 362 (2014)

After being convicted of capital murder of a police officer, petitioner Sprouse was sentenced to death. On state habeas review, Sprouse challenged jury instructions that “effectively precluded the jury from considering voluntary intoxication as mitigating evidence.” Raising the issue again on federal habeas review, Sprouse contended that the state court “unreasonably applied” Penry v. Lynaugh (“Penry I ”), 492 U.S. 302, 109 S.Ct. 2934, 106 L.Ed.2d 256 (1989), Boyde v. California, 494 U.S. 370, 110 S.Ct. 1190, 108 L.Ed.2d 316 (1990), and Penry v. Johnson (“Penry II ”), 532 U.S. 782, 121 S.Ct. 1910, 150 L.Ed.2d 9 (2001). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s denial of Sprouse’s habeas petition.

At the close of the punishment phase of the trial, the jury received three general instructions regarding the proper treatment of mitigating evidence. First, what constituted mitigating evidence, second that “neither intoxication nor temporary insanity of mind caused by intoxication constitute [sic ] a defense to the commission of a crime,” and a final instruction on temporary insanity. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Sprouse argued that the voluntary-intoxication instruction (instruction two) “unconstitutionally limited the jury's ability to consider mitigating evidence.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Sprouse’s federal habeas petition, holding that neither the state court nor the federal district court were unreasonable in their application of Supreme Court precedent. Further, the Fifth Circuit stated that “the fact that Sprouse perceives a negative inference in one sentence of his jury charge does not demonstrate that his jury was confused about, and precluded from following, the comprehensive and catch-all affirmative command to the jury to consider mitigation circumstances.”

In November 2014, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1