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Opinion of the Court
taken by Corella, petitioner, or both, and these two then drove away with Erwin. Either petitioner or Corella was driving, and whoever it was drove the car over Crummett twice. Crummett suffered injuries to his head and trunk, and died.
The State of Arizona charged petitioner with robbery and first degree murder. Erwin testified at the jury trial that petitioner drove the car over Crummett, but admitted that she had been intoxicated by heroin at the time. A defense witness stated that Erwin previously had identified Corella as the driver. Neither Corella nor petitioner took the stand, although the prosecution did introduce a postarrest statement by petitioner in which he acknowledged robbing Crummett but claimed that Corella was the driver. There was medical testimony that a car had crushed Crummett's head, killing him, and that the injuries to his trunk, also vehicular, took place at least 30 seconds later.
Petitioner was convicted of both robbery and first degree murder. The jury was instructed as to the elements of felony murder as well as premeditated murder; the murder conviction was returned by a general verdict. Judge Roylston held the penalty hearing required by Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703 (1989), then codified as $ 13,454, and sentenced petitioner to death for the murder and 15—20 years' imprisonment for the robbery. The judge found two statutory aggravating factors: that petitioner had a prior felony conviction involving the use or threat of violence on another person, $ 13-703(F)(2) (an armed kidnaping), and that petitioner "committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner,” $ 13–703(F)(6) ((F)(6) factor). Specifically, Judge Roylston's written order stated that “the Defendant did commit the offense in an especially heinous and cruel manner.” App. 44. There was no explicit finding about the identity of the driver of the vehicle.
Petitioner unsuccessfully sought postconviction relief in the trial court, attaching two affidavits by persons who
Opinion of the Court
claimed to have been told by Corella that she, not petitioner, drove the car over Crummett. The Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed the sentence, conviction, and denial of postconviction relief. State v. Richmond, 114 Ariz. 186, 560 P. 2d 41 (1976). Although the opinion is ambiguous on this point, it appears that the court did not reach petitioner's vagueness challenge to the "especially heinous, cruel or depraved” factor because his death sentence was supported by another valid aggravating factor and no statutory mitigating factors applied. Id., at 196–197, 560 P. 2d, at 51–52. We denied certiorari. 433 U. S. 915 (1977). Federal habeas corpus proceedings ensued, as a result of which petitioner's conviction was found valid but his sentence invalid because the sentencing judge had been constrained to consider a limited set of mitigating factors. Richmond v. Cardwell, 450 F. Supp. 519 (Ariz. 1978). Soon thereafter, the Supreme Court of Arizona held the Arizona death penalty statute unconstitutional insofar as it limited defendants to statutory mitigating factors, State v. Watson, 120 Ariz. 441, 444-445, 586 P. 2d 1253, 1256–1257 (1978), and vacated every pending Arizona death sentence, see Brief for Respondents 5.
Petitioner's resentencing took place in March 1980. At the hearing, one defense witness testified that Erwin had identified Corella as the driver, while another stated that Corella had admitted the same. The defense also produced evidence of petitioner's rehabilitation in prison and of the effect his execution would have on his family. Judge Roylston again sentenced petitioner to death, this time finding three statutory aggravating circumstances: under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. $ 13–703(F)(2) (prior violent felony) and § 13– 703(F)(6) (“especially heinous, cruel or depraved” offense), as before, and also under $ 13–703(F)(1) (prior felony meriting life imprisonment), for a murder charge of which petitioner had been convicted after the first sentencing even though the murder predated Crummett's. Once again, the judge found that “the Defendant did commit the offense in this case
Opinion of the Court
in an especially heinous and cruel manner,” App. 74, but did not explicitly find that petitioner was the driver. The findings as to mitigation were, among others, that “Rebecca Corella was involved in the offense but was never charged with any crime"; that "Faith [E]rwin was involved in the offense but was never charged with any crime"; that “the jury was instructed both on the matters relating to the felony murder rule, as well as matters relating to premeditated murder”; and that “the Defendant's family ... will suffer considerable grief as a result of any death penalty that might be imposed.” Id., at 75. The judge was unable to make a definitive finding as to rehabilitation and concluded that "there are no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to call for leniency.” Id., at 76.
A divided Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed, with each of the five justices joining one of three opinions. State v. Richmond, 136 Ariz. 312, 666 P. 2d 57 (1983) (Richmond II). Chief Justice Holohan wrote the principal opinion for himself and for Justice Hays, rejecting various challenges to petitioner's sentence, including a challenge to the (F)(6) factor. He reasoned that petitioner's offense was "heinous" and "depraved” (but not “cruel”) and that this factor was not unconstitutionally vague:
“In [State v. Gretzler, 135 Ariz. 42, 659 P. 2d 1, cert. denied, 461 U. S. 971 (1983)], we discussed factors which lead to a finding of heinousness or depravity. One factor is the infliction of gratuitous violence on the victim; another related factor is the needless mutilation of the victim. Here the victim was already unconscious and bleeding when he was run over not once, but twice, each time from a different direction. The evidence indicates that the first run by the vehicle was over the victim's head crushing his skull and killing him. The second run of the vehicle was over the body of the victim. ... Again the fact that the victim in the instant case was run over
Opinion of the Court
twice and his skull was crushed, we find to be a ghastly
mutilation of the victim.” Id., at 319, 666 P. 2d, at 64. The principal opinion then conducted an independent review of the sentence, concluding that “the mitigation offered by [petitioner] is not sufficiently substantial to outweigh the [three) aggravating circumstances.” Id., at 321, 666 P. 2d, at 66.
Justice Cameron, joined by Vice Chief Justice Gordon, wrote a special concurrence. “I concur in the [principal opinion] except its finding that this crime was heinous and depraved, and I concur in the result.” Id., at 324, 666 P. 2d, at 69. The concurring justices contended that petitioner committed neither “gratuitous violence” nor “needless mutilation" within the meaning of State v. Gretzler, 135 Ariz. 42, 659 P. 2d 1, cert. denied, 461 U. S. 971 (1983). Gratuitous violence would have obtained only if petitioner "knew or should have known that the victim was dead after the first pass of the car"—if he “inflicted any violence on the victim which he must have known was 'beyond the point necessary to kill.'” Richmond II, 136 Ariz., at 323, 666 P. 2d, at 68. Similarly, needless mutilation was interpreted to mean “distinct acts, apart from the killing, specifically performed to mutilate the victim's body.” Ibid. But the concurrence agreed that a death sentence was appropriate for petitioner, even absent the (F)(6) factor.
Justice Feldman dissented. He argued that the murder was not “especially heinous, cruel or depraved" and that the mitigating evidence of petitioner's rehabilitation precluded a death sentence. Id., at 324-325, 666 P. 2d, at 69–70.
We denied certiorari. 464 U. S. 986 (1983). Petitioner filed a habeas corpus action in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, challenging his sentence and conviction. The District Court denied relief, Richmond v. Ricketts, 640 F. Supp. 767 (1986), and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, 921 F. 2d 933 (1990). As to the (F)(6) factor, the panel held that a valid narrowing construction of that factor
Opinion of the Court
had been imposed in Richmond II and, in the alternative, that petitioner's sentence could stand without that factor despite our decision in Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U. S. 738 (1990). “Elimination of the challenged factor would still leave enough support for (petitioner's] sentence because the statute at issue here is not a 'weighing' statute.” 921 F. 2d, at 947. The opinion later was amended to omit that sentence, but the amended opinion still reasoned: “Under the statute at issue in Clemons, the invalidation of an aggravating circumstance necessarily renders any evidence of mitigation 'weightier' or more substantial in a relative sense; the same, however, cannot be said under the terms of the Arizona statute at issue here.” 948 F. 2d 1473, 1488–1489 (1992).
The Ninth Circuit denied rehearing en banc, with four judges dissenting. Id., at 1476. We granted certiorari, 503 U. S. 958 (1992), and now reverse.
Petitioner challenges his death sentence imposed at resentencing in 1980. He argues that the “especially heinous, cruel or depraved” aggravating factor specified by Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(F)(6) (1989), upon which the sentencing judge relied, was unconstitutionally vague, and that the Supreme Court of Arizona failed to cure this invalidity in Richmond II.
The relevant Eighth Amendment law is well defined. First, a statutory aggravating factor is unconstitutionally vague if it fails to furnish principled guidance for the choice between death and a lesser penalty. See, e. g., Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U. S. 356, 361-364 (1988); Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420, 427-433 (1980). Second, in a "weighing" State, where the aggravating and mitigating factors are balanced against each other, it is constitutional error for the sentencer to give weight to an unconstitutionally vague aggravating factor, even if other, valid aggravating factors ob