Let's go straight to SCOTUS Blog for the U.S. Supreme Court's first capital ruling in the term. Lyle Denniston reports. LINK
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday found -- for a third time -- that California's special "catchall" instruction to juries in death penalty cases provides enough opportunity for jurors to consider all favorable evidence for the accused. The instruction, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, goes far enough to assure that the jury will not only consider favorable evidence about the crime itself, but about evidence that the individual would not be dangerous in the future if his life were spared. The ruling in the case of Ayers v. Belmontes (05-493) was the only opinion on the merits issued Monday.
The Ninth Circuit Court reversed the death sentence of Fernando Belmontes for the second time after the Supreme Court had returned the case to it. The Circuit Court said the Supreme Court's prior review of the catchall instruction ("factor k") had only found that it was sufficient to cover mitigating evidence about the accused's culpability for the crime, and not evidence about his capacity to adjust well to life in prison.
The Court previously rejected challenges to "factor k" in Boyde v. California in 1990 and Brown v. Payton in 2005.