Monday, June 24, 2002


168 Death Sentences Overturned

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court overturned the death sentence laws of five states Monday, affecting more than 160 death row inmates, by ruling that juries and not judges must make life-or-death determinations about the fate of convicted killers.

The 7-2 ruling means that executions ordered for 168 people will be reconsidered, although it is not clear how the affected states will respond.

The decision concerned instances in which juries determined defendants' guilt or innocence and judges alone decided their punishment. The court held that such sentences violate defendants' constitutional right to trial by jury, rejecting the argument that judges can be more evenhanded.

"The Sixth Amendment jury trial right ... does not turn on the relative rationality, fairness or efficiency of potential fact-finders," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for a majority that included an unusual alliance of conservative and liberal-leaning justices.

In some states juries determine guilt or innocence, but a judge then bases a death sentence on aggravating factors such as the heinous nature of a murder or whether it was committed for monetary gain.