Jury Instructions on Possibility of Parole

In Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 114 S. Ct. 2187, 129 L. Ed. 2d 133 (1994), the United States Supreme Court addressed the propriety of including the possibility of parole in jury instructions. In that case the defendant was ineligible for parole because of prior convictions. However, the state argued to the jury that his future dangerousness was a factor to consider when deciding whether to impose life or death. The defendant was not allowed to instruct the jury as to his ineligibility for parole. During deliberations, the jury sent out a note asking whether life imprisonment carried the possibility of parole. The court responded by telling the jury not to consider parole when reaching its verdict and that the terms death sentence and life imprisonment were to be interpreted according to their ordinary and everyday meanings. The Supreme Court reversed the sentence. A plurality of the Court held that where a defendant's future dangerousness had been put at issue by the state, and the defendant was ineligible for parole, the jury was entitled to be so instructed. Id. at 168-69, 114 S. Ct. at 2196, 129 L. Ed. 2d at 145-46.