Monday, April 22, 2002


Supreme Court Looks at Death Penalty
Mon Apr 22, 5:08 PM ET
By ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court waded deeper into the death penalty debate Monday with a case that could overturn 800 death sentences nationally and another case seeking extra appeals for the condemned.

Death sentences in nine states could be affected by the court's ruling in the case of Timothy Stuart Ring, convicted of killing of an armored car driver during a robbery eight years ago.

The court is expected to decide by summer whether a defendant's constitutional right to a jury trial means that only a jury can make the crucial determinations that result in a death sentence. Currently, although juries are responsible for deciding guilt or innocence, judges decide the sentence in Arizona and eight other states.

Ring's is the fourth death penalty case the court has reviewed in the current term. None of the cases attacks the essential constitutionality of capital punishment, which is imposed in 38 states.

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected Ring's constitutional challenge last year. The state has 128 people on death row.

Idaho and Montana have systems like Arizona's, where a single judge decides the sentence. Idaho has 21 people on death row, and Montana has six.

In four states, juries recommend life or death. A judge makes the final call in those states: Florida, with 386 people on death row; Alabama with 188; Indiana with 39 and Delaware with 19.

In Colorado, with six people on death row, and Nebraska, with seven, a panel of judges makes the sentencing decision.

Nationwide, there are about 3,700 people on death row.