Monday, April 22, 2002

776 death penalty cases
The Supreme Court will begin hearing a case this morning on the sentencing aspect of a death penalty case which may have an impact on 776 death penalty cases in nine states. In those states, the jury hears the case, and the judge makes the final sentencing decision, which may be based upon information that didn't come out in the trial. The case before the Court is from Arizona, but if the Court decides to overturn the sentence in that case, it may have an impact on other states that also allow judges to hear additional evidence at the time of sentencing.
Does the sentencing hearing amount to a second trial conducted in violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to be tried by a jury of his peers? That is the question the US Supreme Court takes up this morning in a potential landmark case that could dramatically shift the way criminal sentences are meted out in courts nationwide.
If the Court overturns the Arizona sentence, it could have a much greater impact than just upon death sentence cases. Other cases at risk are ones where a judge sentenced someone using facts which were not presented to the jury, and those facts caused the sentence to be enhanced in severity beyond what was called for by statute. Delaware sentences could be affected by the decision in this case.

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