The court by a 7-2 vote today overturned its 1990 decision that upheld an Arizona capital sentencing law that let a judge make factual findings necessary to sentence a convicted murderer to death.
The ruling followed a landmark decision last Thursday when the court outlawed executions of the mentally retarded in capital cases.
“Capital defendants, no less than non-capital defendants, we conclude, are entitled to a jury determination of any fact on which the legislature conditions an increase in their maximum punishment,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in announcing the latest ruling from the bench.
In dissent, Justice Sandra Day O´Connor said the decision effectively declared unconstitutional capital sentencing schemes in five states with 168 prisoners on death row. In those five states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska — judges impose the sentence in capital cases.