Following its decision in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court of the United States has attempted to standardize procedures that states use to subject offenders to the ultimate penalty. In practice, this attempt at standardization has divided capital sentencing into two distinct parts: the death eligibility decision and the death selection decision. The eligibility decision addresses whether the sentencer may impose the death penalty, while the selection decision determines who among that limited subset of eligible offenders is sentenced to death. In Ring v. Arizona, the Court held for the first time that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires a jury to decide each fact necessary to justify a death sentence. The Court re-affirmed Ring in Hurst v. Florida. The Court, however, has never explicitly clarified the proper role of judges in capital sentencing beyond death eligibility.
This Comment takes the position that the Court’s decisions in Ring and Hurst are narrow and only implicate the eligibility decision. This Comment examines the history of the Court’s modern capital punishment jurisprudence relating to jury sentencing and relevant non-capital cases that implicate the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Further, this Comment argues that judicial sentencing creates a capital sentencing structure that is fairer, more uniform, and more harmonious with the public policy rationales for capital punishment than sentencing by a jury. Finally, this Comment argues that, because juries play a valuable role in democratizing the law, there should still be a role for juries beyond the constitutional minimum requirement of a jury finding aggravating circumstances or convicting a defendant of a capital felony.
Andrew R. Ford,
Judges do it Better: Why Judges can (and Should) Decide Life or Death,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlr/vol124/iss2/6
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