The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will consider an appeal in a murder condemnation case, and its ruling could invalidate every death sentence handed down by a judge rather than a jury.
Two years ago, the court ruled in an Arizona case that juries, not judges, must make the decision about whether a convicted murderer should be put to death. The ruling reversed the sentence of death-row inmate Timothy Ring, and it prompted a number of states to rewrite their capital sentencing procedures to involve juries rather than judges in all pending and future cases, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
But the Ring case left open a thorny question. If his death sentence was meted out in violation of constitutional principles, what about scores of other inmates sentenced to die under similar circumstances?
The justices on Monday take up a second Arizona case, Schriro v. Summerlin, to decide whether the court’s 2002 decision in the Ring case should be applied retroactively. The case has implications for 86 death-row inmates in Arizona, 14 in Idaho, 12 in Nevada, five in Nebraska, and four in Montana.
If the high court issues a particularly broad ruling mandating mass resentencings, the case could also affect death-row inmates in Florida, Alabama, Delaware, and Indiana. Some analysts warn that any ruling supporting retroactive application of Ring would trigger constitutional challenges to a wide range of noncapital sentences determined by judges rather than juries, including federal sentencing guidelines.