The Supreme Court will decide whether its ruling that overturned the death penalty laws of five states last year should be applied retroactively. If the answer is yes, more than 100 death-row inmates in five states will be entitled to new sentencing hearings, the New York Times says.
The court held in an Arizona case that juries rather than judges must make the factual determinations that separated convicted murderers eligible to be sentenced to death from those who were not. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska gave that role to judges.
The new case does not directly raise the retroactivity of an earlier Supreme Court decision, in Apprendi v. New Jersey, that started a revolution in criminal sentencing. That case said that juries, not judges, must determine any fact that increases a sentence above the statutory minimum. Sorting out the implications of that decision has proved a challenge for the entire criminal justice system. The Supreme Court has decided several follow-up cases, and a new one, Blakeley v. Washington, will decide some implications of the judge-vs.-jury question for states’ sentencing-guideline systems.