JELLS v. OHIO
Annotate this Case
498 U.S. 1111 (1991)
U.S. Supreme Court
JELLS v. OHIO , 498 U.S. 1111 (1991)
498 U.S. 1111 112 L.Ed.2d 1101
Reginald JELLS, petitioner
OHIO. No. 90-6713.
Supreme Court of the United States
February 19, 1991
On petition for writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Feb. 19, 1991. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.
The question in this case is whether petitioner's waiver of his right to a jury trial was knowing and voluntary when there is no evidence that petitioner was aware that his waiver also applied to his right to be sentenced by a jury that could not impose death by less than a unanimous vote and without the trial judge's independent agreement that death was the proper sentence. Because I believe that petitioner could not be understood to have made a "knowing" decision without such critical information, I would grant the petition for certiorari.
The jury plays a vital role in Ohio's capital sentencing scheme. Under the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure, a felony defendant who does not waive the right to a jury trial is tried before a twelve-person jury. See Ohio Rule Crim.Proc. 23(b) (1987). When the defendant is accused of a crime punishable by death, the same jury presides at both the guilt phase and the penalty phase. See State v. Mapes, 19 Ohio St.3d 108, 116, 484 N. E.2d 140, 147 (1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1178, 106 S.Ct. 2905d 991 (1986); see also Ohio Rev.Code Ann. 2929.03(C)(2)(b) (1987). Unless the jury unanimously finds beyond reasonable doubt that death is the proper sentence, the defendant must be sentenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after either twenty or thirty years imprisonment. See Ohio Rev.Code Ann. 2929.03(D)(2) (1987); see also State v. Jenkins, 15 Ohio St.3d 164, 200, 473 N.E.2d 264, 297 (1984), cert. denied 472 U.S. 1032, 105 S.Ct. 3514, 87 L.Ed.2d 643 (1985). Significantly, even if the jury unanimously recommends the death penalty, the trial court also must independently find beyond reasonable doubt that death is the correct sentence before the defendant may be sentenced to death. See Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 2929.03(D)(2)-(3) (1987); see also State v. Jenkins, supra, 15 Ohio St.3d, at 200-201, 473 N.E.2d, at 297.
Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in an Ohio state court. Because petitioner waived his right to a jury trial, a three- judge panel determined both his guilt and his sen-
tence. [Footnote 1] The form on which petitioner executed his waiver mirrored the language of Ohio Rev.Code Ann. 2945.05 (1987):
- " 'I, REGINALD JELLS, the defendant in the above cause, hereby voluntarily waive and relinquish my right to a trial by jury, and elect to be tried by three judges of the court in which said cause may be pending. I fully understand that under the laws of this State, I have a constitutional right to a trial by jury.' " 53 Ohio St.3d 22, 25, 559 N.E.2d 464, 468 (1990).
Petitioner signed the statement, as did his two witnessing attorneys. Ibid. The trial court also conducted a hearing to determine whether petitioner signed the form voluntarily:
- " 'THE COURT: Reginald, is that your signature?
- " 'THE DEFENDANT: Yes, it is, sir.
- " 'THE COURT: You did this of your own free will?
- " 'THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I did.
- " 'THE COURT: Nobody forced you to do this?
- " 'THE DEFENDANT: No, sir.
- " 'THE COURT: All right.
- " 'MR. HUBBARD [defense counsel]: I have witnessed signature, your Honor.
- " 'THE COURT: This will be made part of the record.' " Ibid.
Petitioner maintains that his waiver was not constitutionally sufficient because at no point did the trial judge advise him that by waiving his jury trial right he also waived jury sentencing. The Ohio Supreme Court did not address the sufficiency of petitioner's waiver under federal constitutional standards even though it acknowledged that petitioner had claimed his waiver was "constitutionally insufficient." See id., at 24, 559 N.E.2d, at 467. The court did hold, however, that under Ohio law the trial court is not required to determine whether a defendant "is fully apprised [498 U.S. 1111, 1113]
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