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HURSTand ALABAMA


Florida And Alabama
 Jury Sentencing Schemes

 Similarities:
 

Florida
 
Alabama
 

-      Jury override
 (court ruled that judges are given too much power)
 
-      Jury override
 

-      Jury verdict is only advisory to the judge and only a recommendation of sentence
 
-      Jury verdict is only advisory to the judge and only a recommendation of sentence
 

-      Judge reweigh the aggravators and mitigators
 
-      Judge reweigh the aggravators and mitigators
 

-      Judge is final fact finder of aggravators/mitigators
 
-      Judge is final fact finder of aggravators/mitigators
 

 

 Differences 
 

Florida
 
Alabama
 

In Florida, upon conviction, the defendant is not automatically eligible for the death penalty. In order for the defendant to become eligible for death, the jury in the penalty phase must find the existence of aggravating factors to impose such eligibility.
 
In Alabama, upon conviction, a defendant is automatically eligible to be sentenced to death. So, in the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury doesn’t have to find any additional aggravating factors to make such a defendant eligible for death. This is so in Alabama, because the underlying felon, in which makes a murder capital is deemed to be already found upon conviction.
 

The Beast That The System Created
 And The Hurst Decision

 

The constitutional amendment at issue is the 6th amendment to the
 United States Constitution.

 

Which states: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of his defense.

 

The underlined portion of the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution was, and has been being violated by states of the union for years. And now the United States Supreme Court has spoken out against those states. Overruling cases in which the court once upheld the very same practice that it now condemns.

 

Hurst v. Florida is a case that arose out of the State of Florida, which made its way up to the United States Supreme Court, so that that court may consider whether or not Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violates the 6th amendment in light of Ring v. Arizona. [575 U.S. … (2015)]

 

The United States Supreme Court did in fact agree to hear the case and the ruling (opinion) from their review was recently released on January 12th, 2016.

 

Timothy Hurst was convicted of murdering his co-worker. First degree murder. After the culpability phase of Hurst’s trial, the penalty phase of the trial commenced. Both the state and defense gave opening and closing statements. The state (prosecution) presented aggravating circumstances and the defense (Hurst’s attorneys) presented mitigating circumstances.

 

Aggravating circumstances:

 

(1) A fact or situation that increases the degree of liability or culpability for a criminal act.

 

(2) A fact or situation that relates to a criminal offense or defendant and that is considered by the court in imposing punishment.

 

Mitigating circumstances:

 

(1) A fact or situation that does not justify or excuse a wrongful act or offense but that reduces the degree of culpability and thus may reduce the damages (in civil cases) or the punishment (in criminal cases).

 

(2) A fact or situation that does not bear on the question of a defendant’s guilt, but that is considered by the court in imposing punishment and esp. in lessening the severity of a sentence

 

However, in the State of Florida, a jury determination of sentence is only a recommendation to the court. After deliberation, the jury returned a 7-5 verdict, recommending that Hurst be sentenced to death.

 

After the penalty phase of Hurst’s trial the judge held a separate hearing to determine whether sufficient aggravating circumstances existed to justify the imposition of the death penalty. After finding that necessary aggravators existed to justify the death penalty the judge sentenced Hurst to death.

 

Hurst appealed his case to the higher courts (state/federal) in Florida to no avail, until he did so to the United States Supreme court.

 

Florida’s Law

 

• First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. See Fla. Stat. §782.(4(1)(a))(2010)


 

• Under Fla. state law, the maximum sentence a capital felon may receive on the basis of the conviction alone is life imprisonment. §775.082(1)


• A person who has been convicted of a capital felony shall be punished by death only if an additional sentencing proceeding that results in findings by the court that such person shall be punished by death. §775.082(1)
 Otherwise, such person shall be punished by life imprisonment and shall be ineligible for parole.


• In that proceeding, the sentencing judge first conducts an evidentiary hearing before a jury. §921.141(1)


• Next, the jury, by majority vote, renders an “advisory sentence”. §921.141(1)


• Notwithstanding the recommendation, the court must independently find and weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances before entering a sentence of life or death. §921.141(3)


 

On Appeal

 

• The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Hurst’s conviction and death sentence, while rejecting Hurst’s argument that his sentence violated the 6th amendment in light of Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, in which the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional an Arizona capital sentencing scheme that permitted a judge rather than the jury to find the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death.


 

The United States Supreme Court’s Decision

 

• Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violates the 6th amendment in light of Ring.


• (A) Any fact that “exposes the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury’s guilty verdict” is an “element that must be submitted to a jury.” Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466;494. Applying Apprendi to the capital punishment context, the Ring Court had little difficulty concluding that “an Arizona judge’s independent fact-finding exposed Ring to a punishment greater than the jury’s guilty verdict authorized.” 536 U.S. at 604


• Ring’s analysis apprise equally here. “Florida requires not the jury but a judge to make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.”
 “That Florida provides an advisory jury is immaterial.”
See Walton v. Arizona 497 U.S. 639, 648
 As with Ring, Hurst had the maximum authorized punishment he could receive increased by a judge’s own fact-finding.


 

The United States Supreme Court went on to reject one of a few of the State of Florida’s arguments in support of Hurst’s death sentence which was:

 

• The jury’s recommendation necessarily included an aggravating circumstance finding.


• In rejecting this argument by Florida’s attorneys, the United States Supreme Court stated: “Florida fails to appreciate the judge’s central and singular role under Florida’s law, which makes the court’s findings necessary to impose death and makes the jury’s function advisory only.”


 

United States Supreme Court Earlier Holdings 

 

• Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.S. 638
Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447


• In those earlier precedent cases, the United States Supreme Court concluded that: “the 6th amendment does not require that the specific findings authorizing the imposition of the sentence of death be made by the jury.” Hildwin, 490 U.S., at 640-641


• Concerning these cases and portions of their holdings, the United States Supreme court held: Time and subsequent cases have washed away the logic of Spaziano and Hildwin. These decisions are overruled to the extent that they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury’s fact-finding, that is necessary for imposition of the death penalty.


 

The United States Supreme Court’s Conclusion

 

• The 6th amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. This right required Florida to based Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s fact-finding. Florida’s sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional.


• The court in its opinion is not saying that Timothy Hurst can no longer be sentenced to death, nor that the jury’s verdict (in any event) has to be unanimous for death.
 However, the court in this opinion is saying that Timothy Hurst can be sentenced to death again, but instead of the judge being the sole fact-finder of whether or not the aggravating circumstances exist to support the death sentence, the jury shall be the sole/only fact-finder of such.


• The role of the judge in the process of sentencing the defendant to death was what made Florida’s sentencing scheme unconstitutional.


 

Does this ruling affect Cases in Alabama? If so, how?

 

Yes. First allow me to specify the statue that it affect in Alabama.

 

§13A-5-46 Sentence hearing – Conducted before jury unless waived; trial jury to sit unless impossible or impracticable; separation of jury; instructions to jury; advisory verdicts; vote required; mistrial, waiver of right to advisory verdict.

 

(a) Unless both parties with the consent of the court waive the right to have the sentence hearing conducted before a jury as provided in section 13A-S-44(c), it shall be conducted before a jury which shall return an advisory verdict as provided by subsection € of this section. If both parties with the consent of the court waive the right to have the hearing conducted before a jury, the trial judge shall proceed to determine sentence without an advisory verdict from a jury. Otherwise, the hearing shall be conducted before a jury as provided in the remaining subsections of this sections.

 

(b) If the defendant was tried and convicted by a jury, the sentence hearing shall be conducted before that same jury unless it is impossible or impracticable to do so. If it is impossible or impracticable for the trial jury to sit at the sentence hearing, or if the case on appeal is remanded for a new sentence hearing before a jury, a new jury shall be impanelled to sit at the sentence hearing. The selection of that jury shall be according to the laws and rules governing the selection of a jury for the trial of a capital case.

 

(c) The separation of the jury during the pendency of the sentence hearing, and if the sentence hearing is before the same jury which convicted the defendant, the separation of the jury during the time between the guilty verdict and the beginning of the sentence hearing; shall be governed by the law and court rules applicable to the separation of the jury during the trial of a capital case.

 

(d) After hearing the evidence and the arguments of both parties at the sentence hearing, the jury shall be instructed on its function and on the relevant law by the trial judge. The jury shall then retire to deliberate concerning the advisory verdict it is to return.

 

(e) After deliberation, the jury shall return an advisory verdict as follows:

 

(1) If the jury determines that no aggravating circumstances as defined in section 13A-f-49 exist, it shall return an advisory verdict recommending to the trial court that the penalty be life imprisonment without parole.

 

(2) If the jury determines that one or more aggravating circumstances as defined in section 13A-5-49 exist but do not outweigh the mitigating circumstances, it shall return an advisory verdict recommending to the trial court that the penalty be life imprisonment without parole.

 

(3) If the jury determines that one or more aggravating circumstances as defined in section 13A-5-49 exist and that they outweigh the mitigating circumstances, if any, it shall return an advisory verdict recommending to the trial court that the penalty be death.

 

(f) The decision of the jury to return an advisory verdict recommending a sentence of life imprisonment without parole must be based on a vote of a majority of the jurors. The decision of the jury to recommend a sentence of death must be based on a vote of at least 10 jurors. The verdict of the jury must be in writing and must specify the vote.

 

(g) If the jury is unable to reach an advisory verdict recommending a sentence, or for other manifest necessity, the trial court may declare a mistrial of the sentence hearing. Such a mistrial shall not affect the conviction. After such a mistrial or mistrials another sentence hearing shall be conducted before another jury selected according to the laws and rules governing the selection of a jury for the trial of a capital case. Provided, however, that, subject to the provisions of section 13A-5-44©, after one or more mistrials both parties with the consent of the court may waive the right to have an advisory verdict from a jury, in which event the issue of sentence shall be submitted to the trial court without a recommendation from a jury. (Acts 1981, No. 81-178, p. 203, §8)

 

§13A-5-47 Determination of sentence by court; pre-sentence investigation report; presentation of arguments on aggravating and mitigating circumstances; court to enter written findings; court not bound by sentence recommended by jury.

 

(a) After the sentence hearing has been conducted, and after the jury has returned an advisory verdict, or after such a verdict has been waived as provided in section 13A-5-46(a) or section 13A-5-46(g), the trial court shall proceed to determine the sentence.

 

(b) Before making the sentence determination, the trial court shall order and receive a written pre-sentence investigation report. The report shall contain the information prescribed by law or court rule for felony cases generally and any additional information specified by the trial court. No part of the report shall be kept confidential, and the parties shall have the right to respond to it and to present evidence to the court about any part of the report which is subject of factual dispute. The report and any evidence submitted in connection with it shall be made part of the record in the case.

 

(c) Before imposing sentence the trial court shall permit the parties to present arguments concerning the existence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and the proper sentence to be imposed in the case. The order of the arguments shall be the same as at the trial of a case.

 

(d) Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the evidence presented during the sentence hearing, and the pre-sentence investigation report and any evidence submitted in connection with it, the trial court shall enter specific written findings concerning the existence or non-existence of each aggravating circumstance enumerated in section 13A-5-49, each mitigating circumstance enumerated in section 13A-5-51, and any additional mitigating circumstance offered pursuant to section 13A-5-52. The trial court shall also enter written findings of facts summarizing the crime and the defendant’s participation in it.

 

(e) In deciding upon the sentence, the trial court shall determine whether the aggravating circumstances it finds to exist, and in doing so, the trial court shall consider the recommendation of the jury contained in its advisory verdict, unless such a verdict has been waived pursuant to section 13A-5-46(a) or 13A-5-46(g). While the jury’s recommendation concerning sentence shall be given consideration, it is not binding upon the court. (Acts 1981, No. 81-178, p. 203 §9)

 

The difference between Alabama and Florida’s sentencing scheme is this:

 

• In Alabama, upon conviction, a defendant is automatically eligible to be sentenced to death. So, in the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury doesn’t have to find any additional aggravating circumstance(s) to make such of a defendant eligible for death.


• This is so in Alabama because the underlying felon, in which makes a murder capital is deemed to be already found upon conviction.


• In Florida, upon conviction, the defendant is not automatically eligible for the death penalty. In order for the defendant to become eligible for death, the jury in the penalty phase must find the existence of aggravating factors to suppose such an eligibility.


 

Florida and Alabama are the same in respects to:

 

(1) The jury’s verdict in the penalty phase is only advisory to the judge, only a recommendation of the sentence later to be determined.

 

(2) The judge involvement in the process of reweighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances,

 

      make written fact-findings of what aggravators and mitigators that exist

 

      and imposing sentence after considering additional evidence.

 

The United States Supreme Court has deemed such practices and participation of the judge in the sentencing process unconstitutional, while rejecting the Florida’s State’s attorney argument that the jury’s recommendation necessarily includes the fining of aggravation circumstance. Alabama uses same argument about the inclusion of an aggravator upon the jury’s finding in sentencing phase of trial.

 

However, like in Florida, in Alabama a defendant has no way of knowing what aggravators or mitigators were rejected or found by the jury.

 

The foundation of the Hurst decision is

 

Ring v. Arizona

 

In Ring v. Arizona, 539 U.S. 584 (2002), the United States Supreme Court held that a capital defendant is “entitled to a jury determination of any fact in which the legislature conditions an increase in the maximum punishment.” Id. at 589.

 

As Ring relates to Alabama, in light of Ring, a death sentence may not be imposed unless the jury has found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that

 

        (1) statutory aggravating circumstances exist, and

 

        (2) the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances.

 

Ala. Code 13A-5-46€ (1975); ex parte Woodward, 631 So. 2d 1665, 1671 (Ala. 1993)

 

In most cases in Alabama, the jury never make either or the required fact-finings for a death sentence in this case.

 

In Alabama, the jury receives verdict forms that do not allow the jury to express which aggravating factors it finds, or whether they were found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, there is no way for a defendant to determine whether there was a basis for a death sentence in such cases. See ex parte McGoiff 908 So. 2d 1024, 1039 (Ala. 2004) (proposal forms.

 

Closing

 

The Hurst case has provided a window of light to the brothers of life row in states with the death penalty whose sentencing scheme is such as that which the United States Supreme Court has now condemned.

 

Please read the opinion of the Court for any additional inquiry.

 

Randy Lewis