Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 3 (2002)

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authorized punishment contingent on the finding of a fact, that fact—no matter how the State labels it—must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. See id., at 482-483. A defendant may not be exposed to a penalty exceeding the maximum he would receive if punished according to the facts reflected in the jury verdict alone. Id., at 483. Walton could be reconciled with Apprendi, the Court asserted: The key distinction was that an Arizona first-degree murder conviction carried a maximum sentence of death; once a jury has found the defendant guilty of all the elements of an offense which carries death as its maximum penalty, it may be left to the judge to decide whether that maximum penalty, rather than a lesser one, ought to be imposed. 530 U. S., at 497. In dissent in Apprendi, Justice O'Connor described as "demonstrably untrue" the majority's assertion that the jury makes all the findings necessary to expose the defendant to a death sentence. Such a defendant, she emphasized, cannot receive a death sentence unless a judge makes the critical factual determination that a statutory aggravating factor exists. Id., at 538. Walton, Justice O'Connor's dissent insisted, if followed, would have required the Court to uphold Apprendi's sentence. 530 U. S., at 537. Pp. 601-603.

(c) Given the Arizona Supreme Court's finding that the Apprendi dissent's portrayal of Arizona's capital sentencing law was precisely right, and recognizing that the Arizona court's construction of the State's own law is authoritative, see Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U. S. 684, 691, this Court is persuaded that Walton, in relevant part, cannot survive Apprendi's reasoning. In an effort to reconcile its capital sentencing system with the Sixth Amendment as interpreted by Apprendi, Arizona first restates the Apprendi majority's ruling that, because Arizona law specifies death or life imprisonment as the only sentencing options for the first-degree murder of which Ring was convicted, he was sentenced within the range of punishment authorized by the jury verdict. This argument overlooks Apprendi's instruction that the relevant inquiry is one of effect, not form. 530 U. S., at 494. In effect, the required finding of an aggravated circumstance exposed Ring to a greater punishment than that authorized by the guilty verdict. Ibid. The Arizona first-degree murder statute authorizes a maximum penalty of death only in a formal sense, id., at 541 (O'Connor, J., dissenting), for it explicitly cross-references the statutory provision requiring the finding of an aggravating circumstance before imposition of the death penalty. If Arizona prevailed on its opening argument, Apprendi would be reduced to a "meaningless and formalistic" rule of statutory drafting. See ibid. Arizona's argument based on the Walton distinction between an offense's elements and sentencing factors is rendered untenable by Ap-

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