Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 4 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 584 (2002)


prendi's repeated instruction that the characterization of a fact or circumstance as an element or a sentencing factor is not determinative of the question "who decides," judge or jury. See, e. g., 530 U. S., at 492. Arizona further urges that aggravating circumstances necessary to trigger a death sentence may nonetheless be reserved for judicial determination because death is different: States have constructed elaborate sentencing procedures in death cases because of constraints this Court has said the Eighth Amendment places on capital sentencing, see, e. g., id., at 522-523 (Thomas, J., concurring). Apart from the Eighth Amendment provenance of aggravating factors, however, Arizona presents no specific reason for excepting capital defendants from the constitutional protections extended to defendants generally, and none is readily apparent. Id., at 539 (O'Connor, J., dissenting). In various settings, the Court has interpreted the Constitution to require the addition of an element or elements to the definition of a crime in order to narrow its scope. See, e. g., United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 561-562. If a legislature responded to such a decision by adding the element the Court held constitutionally required, surely the Sixth Amendment guarantee would apply to that element. There is no reason to differentiate capital crimes from all others in this regard. Arizona's suggestion that judicial authority over the finding of aggravating factors may be a better way to guarantee against the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty is unpersuasive. The Sixth Amendment jury trial right does not turn on the relative rationality, fairness, or efficiency of potential fact-finders. Apprendi, 530 U. S., at 498 (Scalia, J., concurring). In any event, the superiority of judicial factfinding in capital cases is far from evident, given that the great majority of States responded to this Court's Eighth Amendment decisions requiring the presence of aggravating circumstances in capital cases by entrusting those determinations to the jury. Although stare decisis is of fundamental importance to the rule of law, this Court has overruled prior decisions where, as here, the necessity and propriety of doing so has been established. Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U. S. 164, 172. Pp. 603-609.

200 Ariz. 267, 25 P. 3d 1139, reversed and remanded.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 610. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 613. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 613. O'Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., joined, post, p. 619.


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