Facts of the Case
Does Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme violate the Sixth Amendment’s jury trial guarantee by entrusting to a judge the finding of facts sufficient to impose the death penalty?
Yes. In a 7-2 opinion delivered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court held that, because Arizona’s enumerated aggravating factors operates as the functional equivalent of an element of a greater offense, the Sixth Amendment requires that they be found by a jury. Under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, in which the Court held that the Sixth Amendment does not permit a defendant to be exposed…to a penalty exceeding the maximum he would receive if punished according to the facts reflected in the jury verdict alone, the Court overruled Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, insofar it allows a sentencing judge, sitting without a jury, to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty. The right to trial by jury guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment would be senselessly diminished if it encompassed the factfinding necessary to increase a defendant’s sentence by two years, but not the factfinding necessary to put him to death, wrote Justice Ginsburg.
- Citation: 536 US 584 (2002)
- Argued: Apr 22, 2002
- Decided Jun 24, 2002