When juries are not given the opportunity to assess and test aggravating factors that could trigger the death penalty, they cannot render an accurate verdict -- which, ultimately and clearly, is a violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.
New York City, NY (PRWEB) March 26, 2013
In the ninth installment of his ongoing look at seminal cases that shaped and defined United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.), Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi is focusing on the profoundly influential 2002 Ring v. Arizona 122 S.Ct.2428 case.
In Ring v. Arizona, the US Supreme Court established that only a jury – and not a judge – can decide whether an aggravating factor exists in cases where such a factor is necessary before a death sentence can be rendered.
In the case, the defendant and petitioner Timothy Ring was charged with felony murder committed during an armed robbery. Based largely on the testimony and evidence of an accomplice, the trial judge ruled that Ring was the killer, and also “a major participant in the armed robbery that led to the killing and exhibited a reckless disregard or indifference to human life.”
Under Arizona state law (as it existed at the time), for Ring to be sentenced to death, the trial judge had to establish that at least one aggravating factor existed, and that it wasn’t diminished by the presence of significant mitigating circumstances. Per that criteria, the trial judge concluded that Ring’s motive was financial gain, and that the crime was especially heinous. As such, and without significant mitigating factors, the judge handed down a death sentence.
Ring appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, and claimed that his Sixth Amendment rights (which sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions) and Fourteenth Amendment rights (which prohibit governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without ensuring fairness) were violated. Specifically, Ring argued that a jury – and not a judge – should have been tasked with determining his maximum sentence. In his submission, Ring cited Apprendi v. New Jersey 530 U.S. 466 (2000), in which the US Supreme Court established that only a jury can determine the facts which the state could then use to increase in a defendant's punishment. However, the Arizona Supreme Court dismissed Ring’s appeal per Walton v. Arizona 497 U.S. 639 (1990), which held that the Arizona system was lawful.
Per the discrepancy between Apprendi and Walton, the US Supreme Court evaluated the issue and ultimately held that the discrepancy amounted to a violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial in cases involving capital prosecutions. As such, Ring’s sentence was overturned.
“In essence, Arizona argued that there should be a distinction between an element of an offense, which would be deliberated upon by juries, and sentencing factors, which would be only for judges to consider,” commented Stephen N. Preziosi, whose practice is located in New York City’s Times Square. “The US Supreme Court categorically rejected that paradigm by confirming that the punishment imposed on a defendant cannot be greater than that which was intended by a jury’s verdict. In other words, when juries are not given the opportunity to evaluate, assess and test aggravating factors that could trigger the death penalty, they cannot render an accurate verdict -- which, ultimately and clearly, amounts to a violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights."
Mr. Preziosi’s full analysis of Ring v. Arizona is available on his firm’s website at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com/aggravating-factors-at-sentencing-to-increase-a-sentence-the-aggravating-factor-must-be-found-by-jury-not-judge/.
For more information or media inquiries, email newyorkappellatelawyer(at)gmail(dot)com or phone (212) 300-3845.
About the Appellate Law Office of Stephen N. Preziosi, P.C.
Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi handles criminal appeals in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and in New York State Appellate Courts (including Appellate Divisions and the New York Court of Appeals). Whether a case is under the Penal Law in New York State Courts or under Federal Law in the U.S. District Courts, Mr. Preziosi has extensive experience with all types of appellate matters in both the New York State Courts and the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. Mr. Preziosi has pursued appellate cases in the Appellate Divisions, the Appellate
Terms and the highest court in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals. He has also taken on cases in the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and successfully identified legal issues, designed and written briefs and conducted oral argument. The firm’s practice is concentrated in the area of appeals in criminal matters in both State and Federal Courts, and Mr. Preziosi recently launched a United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) awareness campaign to help the general public learn more about this critically important and influential aspect of criminal law.
Learn more at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com.