Ring v. ArizonaAnnotate this Case
536 U.S. 584 (2002)
OCTOBER TERM, 2001
RING v. ARIZONA
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARIZONA No. 01-488. Argued April 22, 2002-Decided June 24, 2002
At petitioner Ring's Arizona trial for murder and related offenses, the jury deadlocked on premeditated murder, but found Ring guilty of felony murder occurring in the course of armed robbery. Under Arizona law, Ring could not be sentenced to death, the statutory maximum penalty for first-degree murder, unless further findings were made by a judge conducting a separate sentencing hearing. The judge at that stage must determine the existence or nonexistence of statutorily enumerated "aggravating circumstances" and any "mitigating circumstances." The death sentence may be imposed only if the judge finds at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. Following such a hearing, Ring's trial judge sentenced him to death. Because the jury had convicted Ring of felony murder, not premeditated murder, Ring would be eligible for the death penalty only if he was, inter alia, the victim's actual killer. See Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782. Citing accomplice testimony at the sentencing hearing, the judge found that Ring was the killer. The judge then found two aggravating factors, one of them, that the offense was committed for pecuniary gain, as well as one mitigating factor, Ring's minimal criminal record, and ruled that the latter did not call for leniency.
On appeal, Ring argued that Arizona's capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment's jury trial guarantee by entrusting to a judge the finding of a fact raising the defendant's maximum penalty. See Jones v. United States, 526 U. S. 227; Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466. The State responded that this Court had upheld Arizona's system in Walton v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 649, and had stated in Apprendi that Walton remained good law. The Arizona Supreme Court observed that Apprendi and Jones cast doubt on Walton's continued viability and found that the Apprendi majority's interpretation of Arizona law, 530 U. S., at 496-497, was wanting. JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S Apprendi dissent, id., at 538, the Arizona court noted, correctly described how capital sentencing works in that State: A defendant cannot receive a death sentence unless the judge makes the factual determination that a statutory aggravating factor exists. Nevertheless, recognizing that it was bound by the Supremacy Clause to apply Walton, a decision this Court had not overruled, the Arizona court rejected Ring's constitu-
tional attack. It then upheld the trial court's finding on the pecuniary gain aggravating factor, reweighed that factor against Ring's lack of a serious criminal record, and affirmed the death sentence.
Held: Walton and Apprendi are irreconcilable; this Court's Sixth Amendment jurisprudence cannot be home to both. Accordingly, Walton is overruled to the extent that it allows a sentencing judge, sitting without a jury, to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty. See 497 U. S., at 647-649. Because Arizona's enumerated aggravating factors operate as "the functional equivalent of an element of a greater offense," Apprendi, 530 U. S., at 494, n. 19, the Sixth Amendment requires that they be found by a jury. Pp. 597-609.
(a) In upholding Arizona's capital sentencing scheme against a charge that it violated the Sixth Amendment, the Walton Court ruled that aggravating factors were not "elements of the offense"; they were "sentencing considerations" guiding the choice between life and death. 497 U. S., at 648. Walton drew support from Cabana v. Bullock, 474 U. S. 376, in which the Court held there was no constitutional bar to an appellate court's finding that a defendant killed, attempted to kill, or intended to kill, as Enmund, supra, required for imposition of the death penalty in felony-murder cases. If the Constitution does not require that the Enmund finding be proved as an element of the capital murder offense or that a jury make that finding, Walton stated, it could not be concluded that a State must denominate aggravating circumstances "elements" of the offense or commit to a jury only, and not to a judge, determination of the existence of such circumstances. 497 U. S., at 649. Subsequently, the Court suggested in Jones that any fact (other than prior conviction) that increases the maximum penalty for a crime must be submitted to a jury, 526 U. S., at 243, n. 6, and distinguished Walton as having characterized the finding of aggravating facts in the context of capital sentencing as a choice between a greater and a lesser penalty, not as a process of raising the sentencing range's ceiling, 526 U. S., at 251. Pp. 597-601.
(b) In Apprendi, the sentencing judge's finding that racial animus motivated the petitioner's weapons offense triggered application of a state "hate crime enhancement" that doubled the maximum authorized sentence. This Court held that the sentence enhancement violated Apprendi's right to a jury determination whether he was guilty of every element of the crime with which he was charged, beyond a reasonable doubt. 530 U. S., at 477. That right attached not only to Apprendi's weapons offense but also to the "hate crime" aggravating circumstance. Id., at 476. The dispositive question, the Court said, is one not of form, but of effect. Id., at 494. If a State makes an increase in a defendant's