South Carolina v. Gathers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

South Carolina v. Gathers
Argued March 28, 1989
Decided June 12, 1989
Full case nameDemitrius Gathers v. Tennessee
Citations490 U.S. 805 (more)
109 S. Ct. 2207; 104 L. Ed. 2d 876; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 2817
Case history
PriorState v. Gathers, 295 S.C. 476, 369 S.E.2d 140 (1988); cert. granted, 488 U.S. 888 (1988).
SubsequentRehearing denied, 492 U.S. 938 (1989).
Victim impact evidence is relevant at the sentencing stage and thus admissible only if it directly relates to the circumstances of the crime. The content of religious cards possessed by the victim cannot equate to such relevance and contributes nothing to the defendant's blameworthiness.
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 · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
MajorityBrennan, joined by White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens
DissentO'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV
Overruled by
Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991)

South Carolina v. Gathers, 490 U.S. 805 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court case which held that testimony in the form of a victim impact statement is admissible during the sentencing phase of a trial only if it directly relates to the "circumstances of the crime."[1] This case was later overruled by the Supreme Court decision in Payne v. Tennessee.[2]


In a majority opinion by Justice Brennan, the Court held that Booth v. Maryland (1987) left open the possibility that the kind of information contained in victim impact statements could be admissible if it "relate[d] directly to the circumstances of the crime." Though South Carolina asserted that such was the case, the Court disagreed, and held that the content of the cards at issue was irrelevant to the "circumstances of the crime."

Justice O'Connor authored a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Kennedy. Justice Scalia also dissented and expressly argued that Booth v. Maryland should be overruled.


The impact[3] of the case was somewhat short-lived, as two years later, the Rehnquist Court decided Payne, which has had a significant impact in victim's rights,[4] criminology, and the lives of the parties involved.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ South Carolina v. Gathers, 490 U.S. 805 (1989). Public domain This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  2. ^ Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991).
  3. ^ Slowinski, Richard Lee (1990). "Note: South Carolina v. Gathers: Prohibiting the Use of Victim-Related Information in Capital Punishment Proceedings". Catholic University Law Review. Fall (40): 215.
  4. ^ Donahoe, Joel F. (1999). "The Changing Role of Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Cases". Western Criminology Review. 2 (1). Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2012.

External links[edit]