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The Champion

May 2003 , Page 32 

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The role of the grand jury in capital prosecutions

By Thomas K. Maher, Christopher Fialko

Read more 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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