U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Smith v. Spisak, No. 08-724

In capital habeas proceedings, a grant of petitioner's habeas petition is reversed where a state court's rejection of claimed errors regarding jury instructions and verdict forms, as well as ineffective assistance of counsel, was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as: 1) the jury instructions and forms in the penalty phase made clear that, to recommend a death sentence, the jury had to find unanimously that each of the aggravating factors outweighed any mitigating circumstances, but they did not say that the jury had to determine the existence of each individual mitigating factor unanimously; and 2) even assuming that defense counsel's closing argument was inadequate in the respects claimed by petitioner, there was no reasonable probability that a better closing argument without such defects would have made a significant difference.

Read Smith v. Spisak, No. 08-724

Appellate Information

Argued October 13, 2009

Decided January 12, 2010


Opinion by Justice Breyer

Concurrence by Justice Stevens