Death Penalty – Proportionality Review

Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court 

State of Tennessee v. Miller,  No. W2019-00197-SC-DDT-DD  (Tenn. Dec. 7, 2021).

Finally, we are statutorily required to review the defendant’s sentence of death in order to determine whether it is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Our review is intended to determine whether the defendant’s death sentence is aberrant, arbitrary, or capricious insofar as it is “disproportionate to the punishment imposed on others convicted of the same crime.” Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 662 (quoting Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 43 (1984)). Our review employs the precedent-seeking method of comparative proportionality review, in which we compare this case with other cases involving similar crimes and similar defendants in order to “identify and invalidate the aberrant death sentence.” Thacker, 164 S.W.3d at 233 (quoting Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 664). The relevant pool of cases consists of “those first degree murder cases in which the State sought the death penalty, a capital sentencing hearing was held, and the jury determined whether the sentence should be life imprisonment, life imprisonment without possibility of parole, or death.” Rice, 184 S.W.3d at 679 (citing State v. Godsey, 60 S.W.3d 759, 783 (Tenn. 2001); Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 666).

While no crimes or defendants are identical, a death sentence is disproportionate if the case is “plainly lacking in circumstances consistent with those in cases where the death penalty has been imposed.” Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 668. Thus, in our proportionality review, we examine “the facts and circumstances of the crime, the characteristics of the defendant, and the aggravating and mitigating circumstances involved.”18 State v. Stevens, 78 S.W.3d 817, 842 (Tenn. 2002). More specifically, we consider

the means of death; (2) the manner of death; (3) the motivation for the killing; (4) the place of death; (5) the similarity of the victims’ circumstances including age, physical and mental conditions, and the victims’ treatment during the killing; (6) the absence or presence of premeditation; (7) the absence or presence of provocation; (8) the absence or presence of justification; and (9) the injury to and effect upon non-decedent victims.

Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 213 (citing Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 667). We also consider several factors about the defendant, including his (1) record of prior criminal activity; (2) age, race, and gender; (3) mental, emotional, and physical conditions; (4) role in the murder; (5) cooperation with authorities; (6) level of remorse; (7) knowledge of the victim’s helplessness; and (8) potential for rehabilitation. Id. at 213-14.

[Footnote omitted.]

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals



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