Aggravating Factors Don't Need to Be Charged in the Capital Case Indictment

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 25, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Norman Mearle Grim, Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder and sexual battery of a woman and a jury unanimously recommended death. The court approved the jurors' recommendation, finding that the State had proven three aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that those circumstances outweighed any mitigating factors.

Grim exhausted all of his state remedies on direct appeal and collateral attack, to no avail. His petition for habeas corpus was denied, though he was issued a certificate of appealability to determine the following issues:

  • Whether the Indictment Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that an aggravating factor relied on as the basis for the imposition of a death sentence in a state prosecution for capital murder be alleged in the indictment.
  • Whether the Sixth Amendment requires that such aggravating factor be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Whether the Sixth Amendment requires that the aggravating factor(s) relied on by the State for the imposition of a death sentence be alleged in a state court indictment charging the defendant with capital murder.

Indictment Clause

The Eleventh Circuit disposed of this issue rather quickly. The Fifth Amendment's grand jury requirement is not applicable to the states, per McDonald v. City of Chicago. The district court's denial of this claim was affirmed.

Jury's Role Regarding Aggravating Factors

The Supreme Court held in Ring v. Arizona that even in bench trials, a jury must find the existence of aggravating factors. Florida's system requires the jurors to issue an advisory verdict which the judge approves or disapproves.

In differentiating the Florida system from the unconstitutional system in Ring, the district court found that the jurors did find him guilty and based on the aggravating factors, recommended death. The judge imposed their will.

Some time after the district court heard this case, but before this appeal was heard, the Eleventh Circuit heard an indistinguishable case and approved Florida's system as complying with Ring's ruling. That precedent requires affirmation of the District Court's ruling.

Aggravating Factors in the Indictment

Do the aggravating factors that the prosecution intends to prove have to be explicitly stated and charged in the indictment? The Florida Supreme Court, in Grim's state habeas corpus writ, pointed out that all of the aggravating factors that could be proven are listed in the statute. That provides enough notice to comply with the Sixth Amendment.

In order to prevail on a federal habeas corpus claim, Grim would have to show that a Supreme Court decision, in effect at the time of the state proceedings, ran contrary to the state's decision. Grim can't because there is no Supreme Court decision which addresses the issue at all. The district court's ruling on this matter, therefore, has to be affirmed.

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