During a drug binge, Payne
brutally murdered his neighbor and her daughter, and gravely injured her
The Trial Court convicted
Payne of murder and sentenced him to death.
During sentencing, the
prosecutor introduced 'victim impact statements' to show the effect of
the murders on the friends and family of the neighbor.
Payne appealed the sentence,
claiming it was an unconstitutional violation of his 8th
Amendment right against cruel and
Payne argued that the victim
impact statements emotionally influenced the jury to recommend the death
Payne pointed to the US
Supreme Court decisions in Booth v. Maryland (482 U.S. 496 (1987)), and South
Carolina v. Gather (490 U.S. 805
(1989)), which held that victim impact statements were not
admissible during the sentencing phases of capital murder trials.
The Tennessee Supreme Court
upheld the sentence. Payne appealed.
The Tennessee Supreme Court
found that the victim impact statements "did not create a
constitutionally unacceptable risk of an arbitrary imposition of the
The US Supreme Court upheld
The US Supreme Court found
that the introduction of victim impact statements was not an
unconstitutional violation of the 8th Amendment.
That leaves it up to the
States to allow or disallow the statements.
The Court overruled two of
its previous decisions (Booth and
Gather), thereby violating
The Court found that that stare
decisis could be disregarded where
fairness to Victim's rights had priority over the demands of consistency
in the common law.
The Court found that stare
decisis was not an "inexorable
command" and that it is the job of the Court to fairly decide what
the law is, regardless of what decisions they had made in the past.
The Court noted that stare
decisis is most important in
property and contract rights because reliance interests are involved.
However, it is less important for procedural and evidentiary rules.
In a dissent it was argued
that the argument made in this case was exactly the same as was made in Booth and Gather. There was no new theory of law, it was just
that there were new different (and more conservative) Justices on the
Supreme Court. The dissent argued that you shouldn't overrule past
precedent unless there is "special justification."
The dissent notes that
"special justifications" include:
Subsequent changes or
development in the law that undermine a decisions rationale.
The need to bring a
decision into agreement with experience and with facts newly
A showing that a particular
precedent has become a detriment to coherence and consistency in the
In general stare decisis has less weight in constitutional decisions,
because the only way to overrule them is by constitutional Amendment.
Decisions that don't involve
constitutional protections can always be overridden by just passing a new