aggravating factors

McKinney v. Arizona is an excellent illustration of the complexity and disagreement on the Supreme Court over the death penalty. The Supreme Court held 5-4 that a court rather than a jury may reweigh improperly excluded mitigating evidence in a death penalty case on collateral review.

In 1992 James McKinney was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. To receive the death penalty at least one aggravating circumstance must be found. A...

In Hurst v. Florida the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Florida’s death penalty sentencing scheme is unconstitutional because it allows the judge, instead of requiring the jury, to impose the death sentence.

In 2000 in Apprendi v. New Jersey the Court held that any factual determination that exposes a defendant to a punishment greater than that authorized by a jury’s guilty verdict must be determined by the jury. In Ring v. Arizona (2002) the Court held that Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme violated Apprendi because it allowed the judge to find facts necessary to impose the death sentence.

Florida’s scheme worked similar to Arizona’s. A jury verdict for first-degree murder would result in life in prison without parole unless a judge finds facts supporting a death sentence. But in Florida, unlike Arizona, the jury attends the sentencing evidentiary hearing and renders an “advisory verdict.” The jury does not have to specify any factual basis for its recommendation but the judge must give it “great weight.”