This month, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to be hearing oral arguments in the following Death Penalty cases, each asking the High Court to rule on aspects of the Eighth Amendment.
Text of the Eighth Amendment
First, here’s the Eighth Amendment – that’s right, it’s only 16 words long:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Death Penalty Oral Arguments Before U.S. Supreme Court This Month
Now, here are the death penalty cases that will be argued this month before the Supreme Court of the United States, starting next Wednesday (October 7):
1. Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr (two companion death penalty cases)
Oral argument: October 7 2015
Companion cases’ shared question: does a jury in a death penalty case have to be “affirmatively instructed” that mitigating circumstances do not have to proven by the defense lawyers at the beyond a reasonable doubt standard?
Or, as stated in briefing (Gleason):
Whether the Eighth Amendment requires that a capital-sentencing jury be affirmatively instructed that mitigating circumstances "need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," as the Kansas Supreme Court held in this case, or instead whether the Eighth Amendment is satisfied by instructions that, in context, make clear that each juror must individually assess and weigh any mitigating circumstances?
Kansas v. Carr has a second question: if multiple defendants are convicted of capital murder and therefore eligible for the death penalty, then should their sentencing trials be separated?
Or, as stated in briefing (Carr):
1. Whether the Eighth Amendment requires that a capital-sentencing jury be affirmatively instructed that mitigating circumstances "need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," as the Kansas Supreme Court held here, or instead whether the Eighth Amendment is satisfied by instructions that, in context, make clear that each juror must individually assess and weigh any mitigating circumstances?
2. Whether the Confrontation Clause, as interpreted in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), and Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), applies to the "selection" phase of capital sentencing proceedings, as the Kansas Supreme Court held here, i.e., after a defendant has been convicted of capital murder and proof of eligibility for the death penalty has been presented in the guilt phase subject to full confrontation, or does not apply to such purely sentencing evidence, as at least three Circuits have held?
3. Whether the trial court’s decision not to sever the sentencing phase of the co-defendant brothers’ trial here-a decision that comports with the traditional approach preferring joinder in circumstances like this-violated an Eighth Amendment right to an "individualized sentencing" determination and was not harmless in any event?
Hurst v. Florida
Oral argument: October 13, 2015
This is the Florida case where the current capital punishment statute is being challenged.
Question for SCOTUS: does the Florida death penalty statute, which states that the judge make “independent findings” about aggravating factors if he or she is imposing the death penalty, violate the Eighth Amendment and/or the Sixth Amendment (right to a jury trial)?
Whether the Florida Supreme Court correctly held that the jury in a death penalty case does not have a constitutional obligation to render a verdict in the penalty phase of whether the defendant is mentally retarded or not when evidence has been presented to support such a conclusion.
Whether the Supreme Court Of Florida has correctly concluded that this court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002) (1) has no applicability to Florida’s death sentencing scheme generally, (2)that specifically it does not require the jury’s recommendation of death be unanimous, (3) that the jury’s findings of aggravating factors need not be unanimous, (4) that the jury has no role in determining the factual issue of the defendant’s mental retardation, and (5) that the lack of unanimity does not offend our evolving standards of decency as required by the Eighth Amendment?
LIMITED TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: WHETHER FLORIDA’S DEATH SENTENCING SCHEME VIOLATES THE SIXTH AMENDMENT OR THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT IN LIGHT OF THIS COURT’S DECISION IN RING v. ARIZONA, 536 U.S. 584 (2002)