Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002)

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certiorari to the supreme court of arizona

No. 01-488. Argued April 22, 2002—Decided June 24, 2002

At petitioner Ring's Arizona trial for murder and related offenses, the jury deadlocked on premeditated murder, but found Ring guilty of felony murder occurring in the course of armed robbery. Under Arizona law, Ring could not be sentenced to death, the statutory maximum penalty for first-degree murder, unless further findings were made by a judge conducting a separate sentencing hearing. The judge at that stage must determine the existence or nonexistence of statutorily enumerated "aggravating circumstances" and any "mitigating circumstances." The death sentence may be imposed only if the judge finds at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. Following such a hearing, Ring's trial judge sentenced him to death. Because the jury had convicted Ring of felony murder, not premeditated murder, Ring would be eligible for the death penalty only if he was, inter alia, the victim's actual killer. See Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782. Citing accomplice testimony at the sentencing hearing, the judge found that Ring was the killer. The judge then found two aggravating factors, one of them, that the offense was committed for pecuniary gain, as well as one mitigating factor, Ring's minimal criminal record, and ruled that the latter did not call for leniency.

On appeal, Ring argued that Arizona's capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment's jury trial guarantee by entrusting to a judge the finding of a fact raising the defendant's maximum penalty. See Jones v. United States, 526 U. S. 227; Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466. The State responded that this Court had upheld Arizona's system in Walton v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 649, and had stated in Apprendi that Walton remained good law. The Arizona Supreme Court observed that Apprendi and Jones cast doubt on Walton's continued viability and found that the Apprendi majority's interpretation of Arizona law, 530 U. S., at 496-497, was wanting. Justice O'Connor's Apprendi dissent, id., at 538, the Arizona court noted, correctly described how capital sentencing works in that State: A defendant cannot receive a death sentence unless the judge makes the factual determination that a statutory aggravating factor exists. Nevertheless, recognizing that it was bound by the Supremacy Clause to apply Walton, a decision this Court had not overruled, the Arizona court rejected Ring's constitu-

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