Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. ___ (2016)

Issues: , ,



NOTE:?Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.?S. 321 .



Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida

No. 14?7505.?Argued October 13, 2015?Decided January 12, 2016

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One-Sentence Takeaway:?The Sixth Amendment requires that a jury, and not a judge, determine each element necessary to impose the death penalty.



Under Florida law, the maximum sentence a capital felon may receive on the basis of a conviction alone is life imprisonment. He may be sentenced to death, but only if an additional sentencing proceeding ?results in findings by the court that such person shall be punished by death.? Fla. Stat. ?775.082(1). 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(2). Notwithstanding that recommendation, the court must independently find and weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances before entering a sentence of life or death. ?921.141(3).

A Florida jury convicted petitioner Timothy Hurst of first-degree murder for killing a co-worker and recommended the death penalty. The court sentenced Hurst to death, but he was granted a new sentencing hearing on appeal. At resentencing, the jury again recommended death, and the judge again found the facts necessary to sentence Hurst to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Hurst?s argument that his sentence violated the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.?S. 584 , in which this 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.

Held:?Florida?s capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring. Pp.?4?10.

(a)?Any fact that ?expose[s] 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 . Applying Apprendi to the capital punishment context, the Ring Court had little difficulty concluding that an Arizona judge?s independent factfinding exposed Ring to a punishment greater than the jury?s guilty verdict authorized. 536 U.?S., at 604. Ring?s analysis applies 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 . As with Ring, Hurst had the maximum authorized punishment he could receive increased by a judge?s own factfinding. Pp.?4?6.

(b)?Florida?s counterarguments are rejected. Pp.?6?10.

(1)?In arguing that the jury?s recommendation necessarily included an aggravating circumstance finding, Florida fails to appreciate the judge?s central and singular role under Florida law, which makes the court?s findings necessary to impose death and makes the jury?s function advisory only. The State cannot now treat the jury?s advisory recommendation as the necessary factual finding required by Ring. Pp.?6?7.

(2)?Florida?s reliance on Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.?S. 296 , is misplaced. There, this Court stated that under Apprendi, a judge may impose any sentence authorized ?on the basis of the facts .?.?. admitted by the defendant,? 542 U.?S., at 303. Florida alleges that Hurst?s counsel admitted the existence of a robbery, but Blakely applied Apprendi to facts admitted in a guilty plea, in which the defendant necessarily waived his right to a jury trial, while Florida has not explained how Hurst?s alleged admissions accomplished a similar waiver. In any event, Hurst never admitted to either aggravating circumstance alleged by the State. Pp.?7?8.

(3)?That this Court upheld Florida?s capital sentencing scheme in Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.?S. 638 , and Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.?S. 447 , does not mean that stare decisis compels the Court to do so here, see Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.?S. ___, ___ (Sotomayor, J., concurring). Time and subsequent cases have washed away the logic of Spaziano and Hildwin. Those decisions are thus overruled to the extent they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury?s factfinding, that is necessary for imposition of the death penalty. Pp.?8?9.

(4)?The State?s assertion that any error was harmless is not addressed here, where there is no reason to depart from the Court?s normal pattern of leaving such considerations to state courts. P.?10.

147 So.?3d 435, reversed and remanded.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.?J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion.