Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 537 U.S. 101 (2003)

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certiorari to the supreme court of pennsylvania

No. 01-7574. Argued November 4, 2002—Decided January 14, 2003

Under Pennsylvania law, (1) the verdict in the penalty phase of capital proceedings must be death if the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance or one or more aggravating circumstances outweighing any mitigating circumstances, but it must be life imprisonment in all other instances; and (2) the court may discharge a jury if it determines that the jury will not unanimously agree on the sentence, but the court must then enter a life sentence. When petitioner's penalty-phase jury reported to the trial judge that it was hopelessly deadlocked 9-to-3 for life imprisonment, the court discharged the jury and entered a life sentence. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed petitioner's first-degree murder conviction and remanded for a new trial. At the second trial, Pennsylvania again sought the death penalty and the jury again convicted petitioner, but this time the jury imposed a death sentence. In affirming, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that neither the Fifth Amend-ment's Double Jeopardy Clause nor the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause barred Pennsylvania from seeking the death penalty at the retrial.


1. There was no double-jeopardy bar to Pennsylvania's seeking the death penalty on retrial. Pp. 106-110, 113-115.

(a) Where, as here, a defendant who is convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment succeeds in having the conviction set aside on appeal, jeopardy has not terminated, so that a life sentence imposed in connection with the initial conviction raises no double-jeopardy bar to a death sentence on retrial. Stroud v. United States, 251 U. S. 15. While, in the line of cases commencing with Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U. S. 430, this Court has found that the Double Jeopardy Clause applies to capital-sentencing proceedings that "have the hallmarks of the trial on guilt or innocence," id., at 439, the relevant inquiry in that context is not whether the defendant received a life sentence the first time around, but whether a first life sentence was an "acquittal" based on findings sufficient to establish legal entitlement to the life sentence—i. e., findings that the government failed to prove one or more aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U. S. 203, 211. Pp. 106-109.


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