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Enmund v. Florida
Transcript of Enmund v. Florida
Is death a valid penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for one who neither took life, attempted to take life, nor intended to take life?
Earl Enmund sat outside in the getaway car, his accomplices Sampson and Jeanette Armstrong rang the doorbell of Thomas and Eunice Kersey—an elderly couple. When Thomas Kersey answered, Sampson Armstrong held him at gunpoint while Jeanette took his money. Eunice Kersey came out with a gun and shot Jeanette, wounding her. Sampson shot back and killed both of the Kerseys. The Armstrongs took all the Kerseys’ money, then they went back to the getaway car Enmund was driving.
Tison v. Arizona (1987) Supreme Court qualified the rule it set forth in Enmund v. Florida; concluding that the death penalty was in fact an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.
The majority found that the record did not support a finding that Enmund intended to participate in the killing or facilitate the killing. Therefore, death was prohibited by the Eighth Amendment because Enmund only “aided and abetted a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force will be employed.”
Jeanette and Sampson Armstrong were sentenced to death for two counts of first degree murder and robbery. Enmund in a separate hearing was also sentenced to death on two counts of first-degree murder and robbery. Enmund appealed stating that his death sentence was inappropriate because he did not kill or intend to kill the Kerseys, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected Enmund’s disagreement holding that the “felony murder rule and the law of principals combine to make a felon generally responsible for the lethal acts of his co-felon."
Justice O’Connor, Chief Justice Burger, Justice Powell, and Justice Rehnquist stated on the basis that the majority opinion interferes with state criteria for assessing guilt.
Supreme Court Decision
Justice Brennan, stated that he holds that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment in all circumstances.
The death penalty is a valid penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for one who neither took life, attempted to take life, nor intended to take life.