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Supremes Get it Right

By loteck in Op-Ed
Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:29:30 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

The Supreme Court recently decided on Ring vs. Arizona and essentially reversed their stance on a key issue of due process in several states: the issue of whether or not it is constitutional for a Judge to decide on a penalty of death, instead of requiring the death sentence to come from a jury.

I support the ruling, and you should too. Here's why.

A bit of background:

The road to this decision started in 1990 with the case of Walton Vs Arizona, where a convicted murderer's sentence would be life in prison unless a judge found "aggravating factors", in which case he could give him the death penalty. The Judge cited two such factors, that the crime was committed "in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner," and that it was committed for pecuniary gain, and he sentenced Walton to death. Walton appealed and argued that a Judge deciding on the "aggravating factors" violated his 6th Amendment rights. The Supremes disagreed with him: "We thus conclude that the Arizona capital sentencing scheme does not violate the Sixth Amendment."

Then, in 1999, came the case of Jones v. United States where a convicted carjacker, whose maximum sentence would be 15 years, was sentenced to 25 years because a victim was injured in connection with his crime. Jones argued "that serious bodily injury was an element of the offense, which had been neither pleaded in the indictment nor proven before the jury." Here, the Supremes reversed the lower court's ruling, finding in favor of Jones and setting this principle: ""[U]nder the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the notice and jury trial guarantees of the Sixth Amendment, any fact (other than prior conviction) that increases the maximum penalty for a crime must be charged in an indictment, submitted to a jury, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

The last relevant piece of background is Apprendi Vs. New Jersey. The details of this case range too long to fit into this article, but dissenting Judge O'Connor summed up the Supreme's ruling to reverse the lower courts decision like this: "Today, in what will surely be remembered as a watershed change in constitutional law, the Court imposes as a constitutional rule the principle it first identified in Jones." (See .)

Now Then:

The recent Ring ruling follows the pattern of the Supreme Court continuing to uphold their stance that if you're convicted of a crime, anything that would essentially make your punishment worse than what it is allowed to be by law must be presented to and sentenced by a jury of your peers. This is a victory for due process. The problem with the affected state's system of due process is that after the initial guilty verdict by the jury, any other guilty verdicts that may needed to be decided in conjunction with that case were entrusted to the Judge. This is completely antithetical to the idea of due process, especially when the decision is between life and death.

The Rebuttal:

Judge O'Connor and Chief Justice Rehnquist dissented, complaining that the number of appeals and petitions that will ensue from this ruling are overwhelming. They site that "The number of second or successive habeas corpus petitions filed in the federal courts also increased by 77% in 2001, a phenomenon the Administrative Office of the United States Courts attributes to prisoners bringing Apprendi claims." Attorney General Napolitano (pot) said of the Supreme Court (kettle) that the ruling "just illustrates to me how out of touch they are" (black).

The Conclusion:

The problem with J. O'Connor's, C.J. Rehnquist's, and A.G. Napolitano's arguments is that they seemingly place the loads of the Court's dockets on a higher priority than they do the lives of people that are filing the petitions. What they fail to understand is that this ruling at best may be the difference between a wrongful death sentence and life in prison. If juries find that even one of these convicts was wrongfully placed on death row, the Supreme Court's decision is automatically validated.

Aside from that, I (as a citizen of Arizona) know that if (heaven forbid) I'm ever standing in a court room defending myself against charges, I will be much more comfortable knowing that if I'm proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, my fate will be decided by my peers instead of just one man with a robe and a gavel.


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o Ring vs. Arizona
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Supremes Get it Right | 46 comments (18 topical, 28 editorial, 0 hidden)
It's not surprising (3.00 / 1) (#6)
by imrdkl on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 08:00:37 PM EST

That O'Connor has such strong feelings about this, since she hails (judicially) from Arizona, where the "Walton Mess" started this ball rolling. Good call by the court as a whole, however.

Get Rid of the Death Penalty (2.80 / 5) (#19)
by tin the fatty on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:32:38 AM EST

My arguments: the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.

Sorry, but I think the topic is crap.

Contradictory... (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by blurp on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:44:48 AM EST

Another recent supreme court decision says that is is OK for judges to add to a sentince based on evidence that a jury doesn't see. So a judge can't decide if a person dies because of the 6th ammendment, but he can add ten or more years to a person's sentence.


and.... (none / 0) (#31)
by miguel on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:26:18 PM EST

that conflicts with this decision, which basically said the opposite.

I want you to be free
[ Parent ]

Can someone explain (none / 0) (#42)
by tzanger on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 10:19:53 AM EST

is OK for judges to add to a sentince based on evidence that a jury doesn't see.

Can anyone explain to me why on earth, in a tried-by-jury trial, a jury would not have access to all the evidence in a case? Maybe I'm missing something here but to me that is just not right; The power is in the jury's hands, not the judge's in this type of trial, so why would the judge have more information?

[ Parent ]
what the jury gets (none / 0) (#43)
by loteck on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 11:44:18 AM EST

is all the evidence that supports or denies the allegations being made against the defendant, so that they can return a verdict on that charge.

the perfect example of info withheld from a jury is the part in my article that says "(except priors)" or something like that. If the defendant doesn't testify, his prior charges, convictions, and such cannot come into play during the trial. However, if the jury finds him guilty without that information, the judge may take his priors into account when deciding the punishment.

law can be confusing, i hope that made sense.
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]

Understood (none / 0) (#44)
by tzanger on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 11:58:50 AM EST

If the defendant doesn't testify, his prior charges, convictions, and such cannot come into play during the trial. However, if the jury finds him guilty without that information, the judge may take his priors into account when deciding the punishment.

I understand what you said, thanks for the explanation. However I still find that I disagree with that system. If you've got a guy with 15 prior arrests for a crime but no convictions I think that's pretty important info for the jury to have. Same with the case in which he's been arrested 15 times and convicted 15 times.

Now I can see how this would be a bad thing in a jury ("15 times before? He's guilty this time too!") but at the same time I think that if the jury is to be handing out punishment as well (I've never been on Jury Duty so I don't know) then this info should be presented to them after the verdict is read.

[ Parent ]
I don't totally disagree but ... (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by sonovel on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:35:50 AM EST

This case has no effect on whether an innocent person could be executed.

The guilty/not guilty determination is totally unchanged by this. So this makes it no less likely that an innocent person would be convicted.

To show that this case would make it less likely for an innocent to be executed, you have to show one of two things.

Either this case must change convictions (it doesn't) or you must show that juries are less likely to impose the death sentence than judges.

One could look at the numbers an try to figure out if juries are less likely to impose the death penalty. I don't have those numbers.

However, one indication on this is that the prosecution will not allow people opposed to the death penalty to sit in capital cases. This is (somewhat) reasonable, as the law isn't on trial, the accused is. If someone has already decided against the death penalty, they have already decided part of the case before the trial.

Another "clue" to jury behavior can be gleaned from the fact that in all the cases affected by the Supreme's ruling, the jury has already decided on guilt. So the only juries this will affect are those who have decided to convict.

I welcome this decision by the Supe's. I would rather seem more power devolve to ordinary citizens, rather than be reserved to the government. However, it is premature to think that will reduce the number of executions.

I think you're mistaken (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:37:27 AM EST

As I understand the decision, it has been the case that aggravating factors, not decided upon by the jury, can be included by the judge in his sentencing. A man convicted of killing his wife, for instance, which might normally be a life-in-prison crime, could have his sentence bumped up to death if the judge decided that the killing was for money rather than, say, out of jealousy. The jury would have decided that he was guilty of murder, but only the judge decided that he was guilty of murder for money, and certainly the judge's sole opinion is a lower standard of proof.

[ Parent ]
then ... (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by sonovel on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:09:46 PM EST

Are you saying that Juries won't have this additional information for sentencing?

Seems silly to ignore motive in sentencing. After all, motive is the difference between manslaughter and murder (and degrees of murder).

So if the juries should decide the punishment (as I and you think), they should get all the same information as the judge would.

I still don't see this as necessarily reducing the number of death penalties.

It may have that effect short term. Some jurisdictions may find it easier/cheaper to just give a less severe punishment that basically retry the cases.

But longer term, I don't really see an effect.

Just as an aside, I have to say that I am against the death penalty. I just don't see this case really changing it in future cases.

(as another aside -- I love the spellchecker!)

[ Parent ]

I would hope they would (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:48:06 PM EST

but the question is whether they have in the past -- it sounds like the prosecution has been able to present evidence to the judge that he appraises on his own, and the question is not so much whether the judge is competent to decide as it is simply that the judge isn't twelve good men and true. I'd say it's a good point.

Whether it will reduce executions is another matter entirely. I'd wager that there are cases in which the judge would mete out life and a jury would prefer death. The hope, I gather, is that by applying the same basic standard to the death sentence that is applied to guilt a more consistent and fair result will come about.

Yes, the spell-checker is nice. I use a plugin for IE, but often I prefer to use Opera or Mozilla, and it's nice to have spelling on all platforms. It's not why I subscribed, but it's nice to have.

[ Parent ]

No (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by wji on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:56:35 PM EST

This decision makes people in aggregate less likely to be executed. It therefore makes innocent and guilty people both less likely to be executed.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
No right back at you. (none / 0) (#38)
by sonovel on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 05:14:53 PM EST

Why should a jury be less likely to chose the death sentence than a judge? Remember, the only cases that this effects are ones where the accused has been convicted! So in all cases where this decision makes a difference, the jury believes that the person they are sentencing is guilty.  

You provide no argument, just an assertion that juries will impose the death penalty less than a judge. How about any sort of argument at all?

I don't have a real feel for this either way, nor do I have data. But I did at least try to provide some arguing points of why this decision might not have any "positive"* effect on the death penalty.

* I oppose the death penalty, therefore, less use of it is a positive development (IMO, of course).

[ Parent ]

Sorry, you're right (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by wji on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 07:08:24 PM EST

What can I say, I should pay more attention. I'd suspect that juries will be more reluctant -- remember you need a dozen people unanimous -- but you're right, I don't have any data.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
I'd agree (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by cr8dle2grave on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 05:14:32 PM EST

I live in Colorado, one of the states affected by this ruling as we use a three judge panel to determine whether or not to impose the death penalty, and I believe it will most likely increase the number of death penalty sentences handed down. Colorado went to a three judge panel in hopes of increasing the number of death penalty sentences, but, in practice, even those judges who are personally in favor of the death penalty have found it exceedingly difficult to establish the aggravating factors required by the sentencing laws. A jury, on the other hand, is more likely, in my opinion, to overlook detailed and arcane legal arguments and vote their moral outrage.

Westword, a Denver weekly paper, published an exceptionally well done story on this issue last year.

I'm conflicted. I agree with the SCOTUS decision on principle, but I fear that in practice it will result in an increase in the number of death penalty sentences handed out.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
The Supremes get it right (1.33 / 3) (#41)
by loteck on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 12:35:43 AM EST

Right on, loteck! ur2good
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

Getting you out of 0's (n/t) (none / 0) (#47)
by inerte on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 03:46:46 AM EST

Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
[ Parent ]

Missing poll option (none / 0) (#46)
by Pseudonym on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 09:48:57 PM EST

When I saw the headline of this article, I thought it had something to do with Diana Ross.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
Supremes Get it Right | 46 comments (18 topical, 28 editorial, 0 hidden)
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