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First Amendment Library:
Bernard J. O’Donnell


David Dawson was convicted of first degree murder and various other crimes. During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution introduced evidence that Mr. Dawson was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white racist prison gang. This evidence was not clearly relevant to any other evidence offered by the prosecution or the defense. The trial court ultimately imposed the death penalty. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. The First Amendment protects an individual's right to join groups and associate with others holding similar beliefs. Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964). The Constitution, however, does not erect a per se barrier to the admission of relevant evidence concerning one's beliefs and associations at sentencing simply because those beliefs and associations are protected by the First Amendment. United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45 (1984).