Arizona v. Rumsey
Annotate this Case
467 U.S. 203 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U.S. 203 (1984)
Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U.S. 203 (1984)
Argued April 23, 1984
Decided May 29, 1984
467 U.S. 203
Arizona's statutory capital sentencing scheme provides that, after a murder conviction, the trial judge, with no jury, must conduct a separate sentencing hearing to determine whether death is the appropriate sentence. The judge must choose between two options: death or life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years. The death sentence may not be imposed unless at least one statutory aggravating circumstance is present, but must be imposed if there is one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. The judge must make findings with respect to each of the statutory aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the sentencing hearing involves the submission of evidence and the presentation of argument, the State having the burden of proving the existence of aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. After a jury convicted respondent of armed robbery and first-degree murder, the trial judge conducted the required sentencing hearing and ultimately found that no aggravating or mitigating circumstances were present. He ruled, contrary to the State's contention, that the statutory aggravating circumstance relating to killing for pecuniary gain applied only to murders for hire, and did not apply to all murders committed in order to obtain money, such as murders committed during a robbery. Accordingly, respondent was sentenced on his murder conviction to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years, but he was also sentenced to 21 years' imprisonment for armed robbery, with the sentences to run consecutively. Respondent appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, challenging the imposition of the consecutive sentences, and the State filed a cross-appeal, contending that the trial court had committed an error of law in interpreting the "pecuniary gain" aggravating circumstance to apply only to contract killings. Rejecting respondent's challenge to his sentence and ruling for the State on its cross-appeal, the court set aside the life sentence and remanded for redetermination of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and for resentencing on the murder conviction. On remand, the trial court held a new sentencing hearing; rejected respondent's argument that imposing the death penalty would violate Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U. S. 430; found that the "pecuniary gain" aggravating circumstance was present and that there was no mitigating
circumstance sufficient to call for leniency; and sentenced respondent to death. On respondent's mandatory appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court held that, under Bullington, respondent's death sentence violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and ordered that the sentence be reduced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years.
Held: The Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits Arizona from sentencing respondent to death. This case is controlled by Bullington, which held that the Double Jeopardy Clause applied to Missouri's capital sentencing proceeding -- barring imposition of the death penalty upon reconviction after an initial conviction, set aside on appeal, had resulted in rejection of the death sentence -- because that proceeding was comparable to a trial on the issue of guilt and the initial sentence of life imprisonment in effect acquitted the defendant of the death penalty. The capital sentencing proceeding in Arizona shares the characteristics of the Missouri proceeding that made it resemble a trial for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Thus, respondent's initial life sentence constitutes an acquittal of the death penalty, and the State cannot now sentence respondent to death on his conviction for first-degree murder. Although the trial court initially relied on a misconstruction of the statute defining the "pecuniary gain" aggravating circumstance, reliance on an error of law does not change the double jeopardy effects of a judgment that amounts to an acquittal on the merits of the issue in the sentencing proceeding -- whether death was the appropriate punishment for respondent's offense. United States v. Wilson, 420 U. S. 332, distinguished. Pp. 467 U. S. 209-212.
136 Ariz. 166, 665 P.2d 48, affirmed.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 467 U. S. 213.