In reprieves for two death-row inmates, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether the Constitution is violated by Alabama's Constitution is violated by Alabama's unique capital-punishment law or by a ruling of Georgia's highest tribunal.
The Alabama law prevents juries from considering whether a defendent charged with a capitol offense is guilty of having committed a connected lesser crime.
This forces juries "to make an all or-nothing choice on the issue of guilt," defense attorney David Klingsberg of New York wrote in a petition to the Supreme Court.
He cited these "startling" results: of the first 50 defendents who pleaded innocent, 45 were convicted; of the first 45-sentenced after trial, 37 drew the death penalty.
Klingsberg represents Gilbert B. Beck, a former in the course of which he allegedly killed the robbery victim, Roy Malone, 80, in his home in Boaz.
There were no other witnesses. Beck, testifying in his own defense, said he had intended to commit robbery but never contemplated violence. He said Malone was knifed by an accomplice who was tried separately. Beck's offer to take a so-called lie-detector test was refused. He had suffered psychological problems.
The trial judge required Beck to be tried for the capitol crime of robbery, refusing to let the jury try him for simple robbery punishable by imprisonment. In addition, the judge told the jury that if Beck were acquitted, "he can never be tried for anything he did to Roy Malone."
"The jury was pressured to find [Beck] guilty," Klingsberg contended.
In the Georgia case, the court agreed to hear the appeal of Robert F. Godfrey, who was sentenced to the electrocuted for the shotgun murders of his estranged wife and her mother.
Godfrey, a surgical nurse in Rome, Ga., who had been treated for mental depression, contends that his death sentence was based on only partial findings of aggravating circumstances.
The court took over actions: Drunken Drivers
When a motorist refuses to take a test for intoxication, some states allow the refusal to be admitted into evidence at trial.
By agreeing to hear an appeal in a New York State case, the court could have resolved the question of whether the admission into evidence violates the constitutional protection against compelled self-incrimination. The court passed up the opportunity. Justices Byron R. White and William J. Rennan Jr. dissented. Miranda Rights
New jersey doesn't require police to read the so-called Miranda rights to motorists arrested for driving offenses carrying jail penalties. Before being told of the rights to remain silent and to seek legal counsel. Gregory K. Lewin made incriminating statements, which later were used to convict him, about a fatal accident at Point Pleasant, N. J..
The state's highest court affirmed the conviction, and its ruling was left standing yesterday. Justices White, Brennan and Potter Stewart dissented. Review would have been granted had a fourth justice joined them. Retiring Judges
An Illinois law requiring the state's elected judges, but not other elected officials, to retire at age 70 was attacked as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and its ruling was left standing. Justice White dissented. Paroles
A jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., convicted Alphonse Bifulco of conspiring to manufacture and distribute a controlled substance, phencyclidine. In June 1977, U. S. District Judge Mark A. Costantino sentenced him to four years and to an added special parole term of five years. That meant that a parole violation could result in five more years' imprisonment.
In the 2nd U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Bifulco, now in the federal correctional facility in Danbury, Conn., contended unsuccessfully that the drug law did not permit the parole term. The Supreme Court granted his petition for review, which was prepared by a fellow inmate.