Lowenfield v. Phelps

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Lowenfield v. Phelps
Argued October 14, 1987
Decided January 13, 1988
Full case nameLowenfield v. Phelps, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Corrections, et al.
Citations484 U.S. 231 (more)
108 S. Ct. 546; 98 L. Ed. 2d 568; 1988 U.S. LEXIS 313; 56 U.S.L.W. 4071
Case history
PriorHabeas corpus petition denied, 671 F. Supp. 423 (E.D. La. 1987); affirmed, 817 F.2d 285 (5th Cir. 1987); stay of execution granted, 482 U.S. 932 (1987); cert. granted, 483 U.S. 1005 (1987).
SubsequentRehearing denied, 485 U.S. 944 (1988).
The aggravating factor making the crime punishable by death may be found in the definition of the crime itself as long it is enough narrow and precise.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia
Case opinions
MajorityRehnquist, joined by White, Blackmun, O'Connor, Scalia; Stevens (part III, except the last sentence)
DissentMarshall, joined by Brennan; Stevens (part I)
Kennedy took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. VIII

Lowenfield v. Phelps, 484 U.S. 231 (1988), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the two jury polls and the supplemental charge did not impermissibly coerce the jury to return a death sentence, and that the death sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment simply because the single statutory "aggravating circumstance" found by the jury duplicates an element of the underlying offense of first-degree murder.


In 1984, Leslie Lowenfield, a Guyanese immigrant welder, was convicted of the 1982 killing of his girlfriend, a sheriff's deputy, and four members of her family, including a 4-year-old girl.[1]

Opinion of the court[edit]

The court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, held that the trial judge's polling of the jury and supplemental Allen instruction did not coerce the jury to return a verdict of guilty. The Court also rejected a challenge that Louisiana's death penalty statute did not sufficiently narrow the category of defendants who are eligible for the death penalty. The aggravating circumstance in the case, intentionally killing more than one person was found by the jury in the guilt phase after returning three first-degree murder verdicts.

Subsequent developments[edit]

Lowenfield was executed by electric chair on April 13, 1988, at the age of 34.[2]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Louisiana Executes Man, 34, Convicted of Murdering Five". The New York Times. April 13, 1988.
  2. ^ "Convicted Murderer Dies In Louisiana Electric Chair". Associated Press. April 13, 1988.

External links[edit]