Arizona's Death Penalty Five Years After Supreme Court's Ring Decision

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Ring v. Arizona that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a jury trial included the determination of whether sufficient aggravating factors existed to make a defendant eligible for the death penalty. Now, five years later, the man at the center of this case - Timothy Ring - has been re-sentenced to life without parole.

Ring's case is among 27 Arizona death penalty cases affected by the Supreme Court's ruling and re-examinated by the Arizona Supreme Court. The Court has upheld only 2 of the 27 death sentences it has reviewed. Four defendants, including Ring, were allowed to stipulate to life sentences. One person pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received a 25-year sentence. Ten cases were sent back to trial, resulting in 5 death sentences and 5 life sentences. Another 10 cases are yet to be resolved.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Ring directly affected death sentences in five states: Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho. After the ruling was issued, Arizona rewrote its death penalty statute so that defendants may choose juries to not only determine aggravating factors but also to decide death sentences. Since then, juries have selected death sentences in 65% of the capital cases before them. Prior to Ring, Arizona judges imposed death sentences in about 20% of cases.  Ken Murray, an assistant federal public defender in Arizona, said that as attorneys gain more experience with the new rules, they will bring back more life sentences.

(Associated Press, July 18, 2007). See DPIC's Ring v. Arizona Web page and Life Without Parole.