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The role of the grand jury in capital prosecutions
By Thomas K. Maher, Christopher Fialko
Behind Closed Doors columns.
In Ring v. Arizona, 122 S.Ct. 2428 (2002), the United States
Supreme Court ruled that an aggravating factor, without which a
defendant would not be eligible for the death penalty, was the
functional equivalent of an element of the offense that must be found by
a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Ring overruled Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639 (1990) under which aggravating factors were sentencing factors that could be found by a judge.
In overruling Walton, the Court in Ring followed the path that had been laid out by Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227 (1999) and Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466. The common element to Ring, Jones and Apprendi
is the holding that a fact that increases the maximum punishment to
which the defendant is exposed must be treated as an element of the
offense. Until the decision in Ring, the fall out from Jones and Apprendi
was largely related to the need for prosecutors in federal court to
allege and prove to a jury drug types and amount
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