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United States v. Sampson

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 2, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GARY LEE SAMPSON

          ORDER ON UNRESOLVED PORTIONS OF GOVERNMENT’S MOTION IN LIMINE (DOC. NO. 1889) AND DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION BASED ON HURST V. FLORIDA (DOC. NO. 2171)

          LEO T. SOROKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Gary Lee Sampson pled guilty to two counts of carjacking resulting in death and was sentenced to death in 2004. In 2011, the Court (Wolf, J.) vacated the death sentence in light of juror misconduct, and the First Circuit affirmed, ruling that Sampson is entitled to a new penalty phase trial pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Sampson v. United States, 724 F.3d 150, 170 (1st Cir. 2013).

         The case was reassigned to this session of the Court on January 6, 2016. At that time, one of several pending motions was the government’s Omnibus Motion in Limine. Doc. No. 1889. The Omnibus Motion contained requests to preclude seven separate categories of evidence or argument. Previous rulings have resolved the government’s requests as to five of those categories. See Doc. No. 2259 at 15-16 (regarding the scope of mitigation evidence and execution impact evidence); Doc. No. 1992 at ¶¶ 6-8 (regarding comparative proportionality evidence, the unavailability of the death penalty under Massachusetts law, and evidence regarding other executions).

         Two issues raised in the Omnibus Motion remain outstanding and are resolved in this Order: 1) whether to preclude defense counsel from arguing that the government "must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors or . . . that a sentence of death is justified"; and 2) whether to preclude Sampson from making an unsworn statement of allocution to the jury during his penalty phase retrial. Doc. No. 1889 at 10-13, 28-29. Sampson opposed both of these requests. Doc. No. 1918 at 17-26, 50-63. He supplemented his opposition to the first request after the Supreme Court decided Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016), and also sought reconsideration of two prior rulings he suggests were inconsistent with Hurst. Doc. No. 2171. The government opposed Sampson’s supplemental filing. Doc. No. 2212.

         For the reasons that follow, the two unresolved requests presented in the government’s Omnibus Motion are DENIED, as is Sampson’s motion for reconsideration based on Hurst.

         I. Motion to Preclude Arguments That "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" Standard Applies to Weighing Process, and Motion for Reconsideration Based on Hurst v. Florida

         A. Background

         Citing the First Circuit’s opinion disposing of Sampson’s direct appeal, the government urges the Court to preclude Sampson from suggesting during jury selection, or arguing during trial, that the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard governs the jurors’ weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors during the "selection phase" of the capital sentencing process pursuant to the Federal Death Penalty Act ("FDPA"). Doc. No. 1889 at 28-29 (citing United States v. Sampson, 486 F.3d 13, 32 (1st Cir. 2007)).

         Relying on Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and its progeny, including two Supreme Court decisions that post-date the First Circuit’s resolution of Sampson’s direct appeal, Sampson argues that application of the reasonable doubt standard to the jury’s determination of whether death is justified is not only prudent, but constitutionally mandated. Doc. No. 1918 at 50-63; Doc. No. 2171-1 at 15. This is so, Sampson asserts, because the jury’s determination that any aggravating factors "sufficiently outweigh" any mitigating factors and "justify a sentence of death, " 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e), is a "determination increasing the maximum . . . statutorily-permissible sentence." Doc. No. 1918 at 56.

         Following this view to its logical conclusion, Sampson seeks reconsideration of prior decisions denying two other motions presenting Apprendi-based challenges to the FDPA and the indictment in this case. Doc. No. 2171; see Doc. No. 1450 ("Motion to Dismiss the Indictment for Failure to Include Non-Statutory Aggravating Factors"); Doc. No. 1452 ("Motion to Prohibit the Government from Seeking Death Through the Application of an Unconstitutional Statute, Which Fails to Require the Government to Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that Death is the Appropriate Punishment"); see also United States v. Sampson, No. 01-cr-10384, 2015 WL 7962394, at *28-*30 (D. Mass. Dec. 2, 2015) (Wolf, J.) (denying both previous Apprendi challenges).

         During Sampson’s first trial, Judge Wolf instructed the jury, in relevant part, as follows:

If . . . you decide that the prosecution has proven that the aggravating factor or factors outweigh the mitigating factors, you must decide if the prosecution has also proven beyond a reasonable doubt that those aggravating factors sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors to make death the appropriate penalty for Mr. Sampson’s crime rather than life in prison without possibility of release. . . . However you personally define sufficiency, the prosecution must convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factor or factors sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors to make death the appropriate penalty in this case. As I told you earlier, this is a heavy burden. More than a strong probability is required. You must be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that a death sentence should be imposed before voting for it. Death is, of course, the ultimate irreversible punishment. You must not sentence Gary Sampson to die unless you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that death is the appropriate punishment. . . . If you decide that the prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty is justified, you do not have to give a reason for that decision.

Doc. No. 1870 at 57-59 (emphasis added); accord Sampson, 486 F.3d at 29.

         In a post-trial opinion, Judge Wolf explained his view that neither the FDPA nor the Constitution "impose a reasonable doubt requirement on the weighing process." United States v. Sampson, 335 F.Supp.2d 166, 234-38 (D. Mass. 2004). He reasoned that "the sentencing decision in a capital case is, in its most important respects, fundamentally different than any other task that a jury is called upon to perform in our criminal justice system, " as capital sentencing juries "exercis[e] discretion in sentencing that is ordinarily exercised by judges." Id. at 238. Judge Wolf concluded that "[w]hether a jury’s sentencing decision is right or wrong is not something that is capable of proof in the traditional sense, " and he "initially" intended "to not only leave the determination of what ...


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