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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

HOLD ON A MINUTE VOLDOMORT, THAT WAND DOESN'T WORK ANYMORE

In an 8-1 decision SCOTUS has ruled that the death penalty scheme in Florida is unconstitutional under the 6th Amendment.

In Hurst v. Florida the justices, through Justice Sotomeyor stated:

Any fact that “expose[s] the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury’s guilty verdict” is an “element” that must be submitted to a jury. Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466, 494.Applying Apprendi to the capital punishment context, the Ring Court had little difficulty concluding that an Arizona judge’s independent factfinding exposed Ring to a punishment greater than the jury’s guilty verdict authorized. 536 U. S., at 604. Ring’s analysis applies equally here. Florida requires not the jury but a judge to make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty. That Florida provides an advisory jury is immaterial. See Walton v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 648. As with Ring, Hurst had the maximum authorized punishment he could receive increased by a judge’s own fact finding.  


That this Court upheld Florida’s capital sentencing scheme in Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U. S. 638, and Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S. 447, does not mean that stare decisis compels the Court to do so here, see Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (SOTOMAYOR, J., concurring). Time and subsequent cases have washed away the logic of Spaziano and Hildwin. Those decisions are thus overruled to the extent they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury’s factfinding, that is necessary for imposition of the death penalty. "


It should be noted the court specifically refused to rule on the State's argument of a harmless error in this case, so what does this mean?  Are all death row inmates now entitled to re-sentencing hearings?  Death qualified juries for all?  Commutation of sentences?  The emptying of death row?  It would appear that way.


Put your pen away Governor Scott.  No more warrants for now.

21 comments:

scotus watcher said...


Professor:

Query:

Would all death sentences need a new hearing? Or only those where the Judge overruled the jury and sentenced the Defendant to death? If the jury did so on their own, the Judge can't possibly sentence the defendant to anything more than death.

The Court has not yet addressed the issues of a jury verdict form that requires each factor to have a separate vote and they have not yet addressed the issue of unanimity in each vote, so those would not yet be factors in requiring a resentencing? Is that correct?

Anonymous said...

where the jury unanimously voted for death, think harmless error will apply. for others, another story.

The Professor said...

In Hurst the trial court did not overrule the jury. In fact Hurst had two sentencing hearings. In both the jury recommended death, and the court sentenced him to death. The issue here is that the scheme in Florida requires the Court to ultimately make factual findings and legal conclusions in sentencing a defendant to death. SCOTUS decided in Ring v. Arizona that a scheme that leaves the fact-finding to the judge violates the 6th Amendment Jury Trial provisions.

Based upon the decision that the scheme is unconstitutional, and all of the death row inmates were sentenced under that scheme, it would require new sentencing hearings for everyone sentenced to death. The Court refused to consider Florida's claim that it is harmless error where the judge does not overrule the jury.

SCOTUS did not take into consideration the jury's role or findings per the verdict form, in light of the statute's requirement that the ultimate finding of fact was on the judge. Remember, in Florida the jury only makes a recommendation. Therefore the verdict form is irrelevant to the Hurst decision. A change in the scheme requires statutory changes. Ex Post Facto would apply to any re-sentencing hearing.

Right now, I see no way the State gets around new sentencing hearings for the 600+ on death row in Florida.

Anonymous said...

Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 US 348 (2004)

The Professor said...

That was a typo. There are only 400 on death row. Nonetheless, that is 400 too many.

Anonymous said...

They finally Shumie the death penalty. Could see this coming a mile away. Party at the ----?

The Professor said...

I would argue that Ring was decided in 2004. In the past 12 years many defendants have been denied that which Ring required and the State chose to continue with a scheme that clearly violated the essence of Ring. I would argue that each of those defendants whose appeals on this issue have been denied, have the right to re-litigate those issues.

I would also argue that the wording of Hurst leaves open the argument that the trial judge's orders now "convict" the defendant of conduct for which he could not otherwise have been punished. Every death row defendant will be filing new appeals and those whose convictions are after 2004 have legitimate actions.

Claude Erskine - Browne said...

Doesn't the Statute state if DP is overturned or found unconstitutional, its automatic Life in prison

Juniper said...

I suspect the death penalty is on its way out everywhere. Its a cruel, expensive, cumbersome system with uneven results for defendants and uncertain results in reduction of crime.

CAPTAIN JUSTICE said...

Professor. How do you explain how SCOTUS could refuse to stay the execution last week of the inmate in Florida that was executed, on January 7th, when they had to know about this 8-1 ruling that was going to be announced today.

The Professor said...

I can not. That was a topic of conversation on campus today. I did notice it took several hours for the court to deny his petition. One can only speculate that this decision was the subject of that conversation. I have not seen the petition for stay, so it would be interesting to see what grounds were raised. In any case it sucks that 5 justices could not see their way clear to at least grant a stay.

The Professor said...

There have been four death penalty cases brought before the Supreme Court this term. I think it is fair to say there are indications that SCOTUS is slowly creeping toward addressing the big issue – is the death penalty constitutional?

Breyer let that question hang in the air following the last session. SCOTUS had ruled on a case involving lethal injection protocols, but were pressed to address the moral issues being raised out of legal challenges, appeals and exonerations that were becoming impossible to ignore. Alito at the time called the piles of pending litigation a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

Even staunch conservatives have conceded that eventually the court will have to decide once again whether to keep the death penalty as the law of the land. That is, unless the nineteen states beat them to it. (Unlikely in light of states like Fkorida and Texas are part of the union.

eyeonshumie said...

Traditionally we also get the state of the shumie during the state of the union.

Rumpole said...

Personally Mitch McConnell who is behind POTUS as he walks in looks very constipated. Prunes

Anonymous said...

The state of the Shumie is sound. He's never looked or felt better and cigars are selling like hot cakes. ( @loud applause)

Anonymous said...

How could such a result come from all of those bad, bad, evil conservatives? I thought only a court controlled by Borscht-circuit "progressive" liberals could protect civil rights. Hoe did this happen? Shumie! Shumie! Shumie! -- whatever that means

Anonymous said...

Is Chomat really going to civil?

Anonymous said...

ridiculous comment by fleisher that persons convicted and sentenced to death might get new trial on liability not just sentencing.

Secret Judge said...

Here's my profile of the shumie and ren morons. In college, joined fraternities because otherwise they had no social life. Were unpopular with girls, couldn't get a date if their life depended on it. Even then, were overweight, had bad breath and balding. Always poor at sports, but think they know it all because they watch the games. Went to law school in the hopes they would get rich. Are cheap beyond belief. Have even fatter wives who talk too much and kids that hate them. No wonder our profession is in trouble. More: Always plead guilty because they are scared to go to trial, have no sense of humor, and think shumie stuff shows how clever they are. Sad.

Anonymous said...

7:38 am, I'd " Borscht-circuit progressive a new secret anti-Semitic term?

Anonymous said...

Im not 7:38, but do Arabs eat Borscht? I don't get it. How could calling someone Borscht-eating be anti-Arab?