Hurst v. Florida

Decision Date12 January 2016
Docket NumberNo. 14–7505.,14–7505.
Citation136 S.Ct. 616,193 L.Ed.2d 504,577 U.S. 92
Parties Timothy Lee HURST, Petitioner v. FLORIDA.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Seth P. Waxman, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Allen Winsor, Solicitor General, for Respondent.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General of Florida, Carolyn M. Snurkowski, Associate Deputy Attorney General, Carine L. Emplit, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Respondent.

Carolyn M. Snurkowski, Associate Deputy, Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General of Florida, Allen Winsor, Solicitor General Counsel of Record, Denise Harle, Rachel Nordby, Osvaldo Vazquez, Deputy Solicitors General, for Respondent.

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, David A. Davis, Assistant Public Defender, Mark E. Olive, Law Offices of Mark E. Olive, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, Seth P. Waxman, Catherine M.A. Carroll, David M. Lehn, Francesco Valentini, Wilmer Cutler Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP, Washington, DC, Eric F. Fletcher, Allison Trzop, Wilmer Cutler Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP, Boston, MA, for Petitioner.

Justice SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

A Florida jury convicted Timothy Lee Hurst of murdering his co-worker, Cynthia Harrison. A penalty-phase jury recommended that Hurst's judge impose a death sentence. Notwithstanding this recommendation, Florida law required the judge to hold a separate hearing and determine whether sufficient aggravating circumstances existed to justify imposing the death penalty. The judge so found and sentenced Hurst to death.

We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional. The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's mere recommendation is not enough.


On May 2, 1998, Cynthia Harrison's body was discovered in the freezer of the restaurant where she worked—bound, gagged, and stabbed over 60 times. The restaurant safe was unlocked and open, missing hundreds of dollars. The State of Florida charged Harrison's co-worker, Timothy Lee Hurst, with her murder. See 819 So.2d 689, 692–694 (Fla.2002).

During Hurst's 4–day trial, the State offered substantial forensic evidence linking Hurst to the murder. Witnesses also testified that Hurst announced in advance that he planned to rob the restaurant; that Hurst and Harrison were the only people scheduled to work when Harrison was killed; and that Hurst disposed of blood-stained evidence and used stolen money to purchase shoes and rings.

Hurst responded with an alibi defense. He claimed he never made it to work because his car broke down. Hurst told police that he called the restaurant to let Harrison know he would be late. He said she sounded scared and he could hear another person—presumably the real murderer—whispering in the background.

At the close of Hurst's defense, the judge instructed the jury that it could find Hurst guilty of first-degree murder under two theories: premeditated murder or felony murder for an unlawful killing during a robbery. The jury convicted Hurst of first-degree murder but did not specify which theory it believed.

First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. See Fla. Stat. § 782.04(1)(a) (2010). Under state law, the maximum sentence a capital felon may receive on the basis of the conviction alone is life imprisonment. § 775.082(1). "A person who has been convicted of a capital felony shall be punished by death" only if an additional sentencing proceeding "results in findings by the court that such person shall be punished by death." Ibid. "[O]therwise such person shall be punished by life imprisonment and shall be ineligible for parole." Ibid.

The additional sentencing proceeding Florida employs is a "hybrid" proceeding "in which [a] jury renders an advisory verdict but the judge makes the ultimate sentencing determinations." Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 608, n. 6, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002). First, the sentencing judge conducts an evidentiary hearing before a jury. Fla. Stat. § 921.141(1) (2010). Next, the jury renders an "advisory sentence" of life or death without specifying the factual basis of its recommendation. § 921.141(2). " Notwithstanding the recommendation of a majority of the jury, the court, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, shall enter a sentence of life imprisonment or death." § 921.141(3). If the court imposes death, it must "set forth in writing its findings upon which the sentence of death is based." Ibid. Although the judge must give the jury recommendation "great weight," Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908, 910 (Fla.1975) (per curiam ), the sentencing order must "reflect the trial judge's independent judgment about the existence of aggravating and mitigating factors," Blackwelder v. State, 851 So.2d 650, 653 (Fla.2003) (per curiam ).

Following this procedure, Hurst's jury recommended a death sentence. The judge independently agreed. See 819 So.2d, at 694–695. On postconviction review, however, the Florida Supreme Court vacated Hurst's sentence for reasons not relevant to this case. See 18 So.3d 975 (2009).

At resentencing in 2012, the sentencing judge conducted a new hearing during which Hurst offered mitigating evidence that he was not a "major participant" in the murder because he was at home when it happened. App. 505–507. The sentencing judge instructed the advisory jury that it could recommend a death sentence if it found at least one aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt: that the murder was especially "heinous, atrocious, or cruel" or that it occurred while Hurst was committing a robbery. Id ., at 211–212. The jury recommended death by a vote of 7 to 5.

The sentencing judge then sentenced Hurst to death. In her written order, the judge based the sentence in part on her independent determination that both the heinous-murder and robbery aggravators existed. Id ., at 261–263. She assigned "great weight" to her findings as well as to the jury's recommendation of death. Id ., at 271.

The Florida Supreme Court affirmed 4 to 3. 147 So.3d 435 (2014). As relevant here, the court rejected Hurst's argument that his sentence violated the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556. Ring, the court recognized, "held that capital defendants are entitled to a jury determination of any fact on which the legislature conditions an increase in the maximum punishment." 147 So.3d, at 445. But the court considered Ring inapplicable in light of this Court's repeated support of Florida's capital sentencing scheme in pre-Ring cases. 147 So.3d, at 446–447 (citing Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.S. 638, 109 S.Ct. 2055, 104 L.Ed.2d 728 (1989) (per curiam )); see also spaziano v. florida, 468 u.s. 447, 457–465, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). Specifically, in Hildwin, this Court held that the Sixth Amendment "does not require that the specific findings authorizing the imposition of the sentence of death be made by the jury." 490 U.S., at 640–641, 109 S.Ct. 2055. The Florida court noted that we have "never expressly overruled Hildwin, and did not do so in Ring ." 147 So.3d, at 446–447.

Justice Pariente, joined by two colleagues, dissented from this portion of the court's opinion. She reiterated her view that "Ring requires any fact that qualifies a capital defendant for a sentence of death to be found by a jury." Id., at 450 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part).

We granted certiorari to resolve whether Florida's capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring . 575 U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 1531, 191 L.Ed.2d 558 (2015). We hold that it does, and reverse.


The Sixth Amendment provides: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury...." This right, in conjunction with the Due Process Clause, requires that each element of a crime be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. ––––, ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013). In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 494, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), this Court held that any fact that "expose[s] the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's guilty verdict" is an "element" that must be submitted to a jury. In the years since Apprendi, we have applied its rule to instances involving plea bargains, Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403 (2004), sentencing guidelines, United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 125 S.Ct. 738, 160 L.Ed.2d 621 (2005), criminal fines, Southern Union Co. v. United States, 567 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2344, 183 L.Ed.2d 318 (2012), mandatory minimums, Alleyne, 570 U.S., at ––––, 133 S.Ct., at 2166 and, in Ring, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556, capital punishment.

In Ring, we concluded that Arizona's capital sentencing scheme violated Apprendi 's rule because the State allowed a judge to find the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death. An Arizona jury had convicted Timothy Ring of felony murder. 536 U.S., at 591, 122 S.Ct. 2428. Under state law, "Ring could not be sentenced to death, the statutory maximum penalty for first-degree murder, unless further findings were made." Id., at 592, 122 S.Ct. 2428. Specifically, a judge could sentence Ring to death only after independently finding at least one aggravating circumstance. Id., at 592–593, 122 S.Ct. 2428. Ring's judge followed this procedure, found an aggravating circumstance, and sentenced Ring to death.

The Court had little difficulty concluding that " ‘the required finding of an aggravated circumstance exposed Ring to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's guilty verdict.’ " Id., at 604, 122 S.Ct. 2428 (quoting Apprendi, 530 U.S., at 494, 120 S.Ct. 2348 ; alterations omitted). Had Ring's judge not engaged in any factfinding, Ring would have...

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