In Booth v. Maryland, 482 U. S. 496 (1987), the Supreme Court of the United States held that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits a capital sentencing jury from considering victim impact evidence” that does not “relate directly to the circumstances of the crime.” Four years later, in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U. S. 808 (1991), the Court granted certiorari to reconsider that ban on “‘victim impact’ evidence relating to the personal characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the crimes on the victim’s family.” The Court's holding was expressly “limited to” this particular type of victim impact testimony. Booth also held that a victim’s family members’ characterizations and opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence violates the Eighth Amendment, but no such evidence was presented in Payne, so the Court had no occasion to reconsider that aspect of the decision. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has held that Payne implicitly overruled that portion of Booth regarding characterizations of the defendant and opinions of the sentence. Conover v. State, 933 P.2d 904, 920 (1997).
A jury convicted petitioner Bosse of three counts of first-degree murder for the 2010 killing of Katrina Griffin and her two children. The State of Oklahoma sought the death penalty. Over Bosse’s objection, the State asked three of the victims’ relatives to recommend a sentence to the jury. All three recommended death, and the jury agreed. Bosse appealed, arguing that this testimony about the appropriate sentence violated the Eighth Amendment under Booth. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his sentence, concluding that there was “no error.” 2015 OK CR 14, ¶¶ 57–58, 360 P.3d 1203, 1226–1227.
SCOTUS doesn't like lower courts messing with its precedents.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals remains bound by Booth’s prohibition on characterizations and opinions from a victim’s family members about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence unless SCOTUS reconsiders that ban.
The State argued in opposing certiorari that, even if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was wrong in its victim impact ruling, that error did not affect the jury’s sentencing determination, and the defendant’s rights were in any event protected by the mandatory sentencing review in capital cases required under Oklahoma law, but SCOTUS is sending the case down on remand.
Shaun Michael Bosse v. Oklahoma, No. 15–9173, 580 U.S. ____, (Oct. 11, 2016)