throbber
(Slip Opinion)
`
`
`
` OCTOBER TERM, 2015
`
`
`Syllabus
`
`1
`
` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
`
` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
`
`
`
` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
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` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
`
` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
` Syllabus
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA
` No. 14–7505. Argued October 13, 2015—Decided January 12, 2016
`
`Under Florida law, the maximum sentence a capital felon may receive
`on the basis of a conviction alone is life imprisonment. He may be
`
`sentenced to death, but only if an additional sentencing proceeding
`“results in findings by the court that such person shall be punished
`
`by death.” Fla. Stat. §775.082(1). In that proceeding, the sentencing
`jury.
`first conducts an evidentiary hearing before a
`judge
`
`
`§921.141(1). Next, the jury, by majority vote, renders an “advisory
`sentence.” §921.141(2). Notwithstanding that recommendation, the
`court must independently find and weigh the aggravating and miti-
`
`
`gating circumstances before entering a sentence of life or death.
`§921.141(3).
`
`A Florida jury convicted petitioner Timothy Hurst of first-degree
`
`murder for killing a co-worker and recommended the death penalty.
`The court sentenced Hurst to death, but he was granted a new sen-
`tencing hearing on appeal. At resentencing, the jury again recom-
`mended death, and the judge again found the facts necessary to sen-
`tence Hurst to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting
`Hurst’s argument that his sentence violated the Sixth Amendment in
`
`
`light of Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584, in which this Court found un-
`constitutional an Arizona capital sentencing scheme that permitted a
`judge rather than the jury to find the facts necessary to sentence a
`defendant to death.
`Held: Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amend-
`
`
`ment in light of Ring. Pp. 4–10.
`
`(a) 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. Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466,
`
`
`494. Applying Apprendi to the capital punishment context, the Ring
`Court had little difficulty concluding that an Arizona judge’s inde-
`
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`

`
`2
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`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`
`Syllabus
`pendent factfinding exposed Ring to a punishment greater than the
`
` jury’s guilty verdict authorized. 536 U. S., at 604. Ring’s analysis
`applies equally here. Florida requires not the jury but a judge to
`
`make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.
` That Florida provides an advisory jury is immaterial. See Walton v.
`
`Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 648. As with Ring, Hurst had the maximum
`authorized punishment he could receive increased by a judge’s own
`factfinding. Pp. 4–6.
`(b) Florida’s counterarguments are rejected. Pp. 6–10.
`
`(1) In arguing that the jury’s recommendation necessarily in-
`cluded an aggravating circumstance finding, Florida fails to appreci-
`ate the judge’s central and singular role under Florida law, which
`makes the court’s findings necessary to impose death and makes the
`jury’s function advisory only. The State cannot now treat the jury’s
`advisory recommendation as the necessary factual finding required
`
`
`by Ring. Pp. 6–7.
`
`
`(2) Florida’s reliance on Blakely v. Washington, 542 U. S. 296, is
`
`misplaced. There, this Court stated that under Apprendi, a judge
`may impose any sentence authorized “on the basis of the facts . . .
`
`admitted by the defendant,” 542 U. S., at 303. Florida alleges that
`Hurst’s counsel admitted the existence of a robbery, but Blakely ap-
`plied Apprendi to facts admitted in a guilty plea, in which the de-
`fendant necessarily waived his right to a jury trial, while Florida has
`not explained how Hurst’s alleged admissions accomplished a similar
`waiver. In any event, Hurst never admitted to either aggravating
`circumstance alleged by the State. Pp. 7–8.
`(3) That this Court upheld Florida’s capital sentencing scheme in
`
`
`
`Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U. S. 638, and Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S.
`
`447, does not mean that stare decisis compels the Court to do so here,
`see Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (SOTOMAYOR, J., con-
`curring). Time and subsequent cases have washed away the logic of
`Spaziano and Hildwin. Those decisions are thus overruled to the ex-
`tent they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggravating circum-
`stance, independent of a jury’s factfinding, that is necessary for impo-
`sition of the death penalty. Pp. 8–9.
`
`(4) The State’s assertion that any error was harmless is not ad-
`
`
`dressed here, where there is no reason to depart from the Court’s
`normal pattern of leaving such considerations to state courts. P. 10.
`
`147 So. 3d 435, reversed and remanded.
`SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
`
`
`
` C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and KAGAN, JJ., joined.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed
`
`
`
`a dissenting opinion.
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`

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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`1
`
`
` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
`
`
`
` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
`
` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-
`
` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
`
`
` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
`
`
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`_________________
`
` No. 14–7505
`_________________
`TIMOTHY LEE HURST, PETITIONER v. FLORIDA
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF
`
`
`FLORIDA
`
`
`[January 12, 2016]
`
` JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
`A Florida jury convicted Timothy Lee Hurst of murder-
`
`ing his co-worker, Cynthia Harrison. A penalty-phase jury
`recommended that Hurst’s judge impose a death sentence.
`Notwithstanding this recommendation, Florida law re-
`quired 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.
`I
`On May 2, 1998, Cynthia Harrison’s body was discov-
`
`ered 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, Timo-
`thy Lee Hurst, with her murder. See 819 So. 2d 689, 692–
`
`694 (Fla. 2002).
`During Hurst’s 4-day trial, the State offered substantial
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`2
`
`
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`Opinion of the Court
`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 evi-
`dence 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 mur-
`derer—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 max-
`imum 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 pro-
`ceeding “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
`(2002). First, the sentencing judge conducts an eviden-
`tiary 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 recom-
`
`
`
`
`
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`
`
`
`

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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`mendation. §921.141(2).
`“Notwithstanding the recom-
`mendation of a majority of the jury, the court, after weigh-
`ing 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.”
` Although the judge must give the jury
`Ibid.
`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 reason-
`able 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.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`3
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`
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`

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`
`4
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`Opinion of the Court
`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. Ring, the court recognized,
`“held that capital defendants are entitled to a jury deter-
`mination 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 sentenc-
`ing scheme in pre-Ring cases. 147 So. 3d, at 446–447
`
`(citing Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U. S. 638 (1989) (per curi-
`am)); see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S. 447, 457–465
`(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. The
`Florida court noted that we have “never expressly over-
`ruled 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 capi-
`
`tal sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment in
`light of Ring. 575 U. S. ___ (2015). We hold that it does,
`and reverse.
`
`
`
`
`
`II
`
`The Sixth Amendment provides: “In all criminal prose-
`
`cutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and
`
`public trial, by an impartial jury. . . .” This right, in con-
`junction with the Due Process Clause, requires that each
`element of a crime be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable
`
`
`
`

`
`5
`
`
`
` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`doubt. Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (2013)
`(slip op., at 3). In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466,
`494 (2000), this Court held that any fact that “expose[s]
`the defendant to a greater punishment than that author-
`
`ized 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 (2004), sentencing
`guidelines, United States v. Booker, 543 U. S. 220 (2005),
`criminal fines, Southern Union Co. v. United States, 567
`
`U. S. ___ (2012), mandatory minimums, Alleyne, 570 U. S.,
`at ___, and, in Ring, 536 U. S. 584, 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. 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. Specifically, a judge could sen-
`tence Ring to death only after independently finding at
`
`least one aggravating circumstance. Id., at 592–593.
`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 (quoting Apprendi, 530
`U. S., at 494; alterations omitted). Had Ring’s judge not
`
`
`engaged in any factfinding, Ring would have received a
`life sentence. Ring, 536 U. S., at 597. Ring’s death sen-
`tence therefore violated his right to have a jury find the
`facts behind his punishment.
`
`The analysis the Ring Court applied to Arizona’s sen-
`
`tencing scheme applies equally to Florida’s. Like Arizona
`
`at the time of Ring, Florida does not require the jury to
`
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`
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`

`
`6
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`Opinion of the Court
`make the critical findings necessary to impose the death
`penalty. Rather, Florida requires a judge to find these
`facts. Fla. Stat. §921.141(3). Although Florida incorpo-
`rates an advisory jury verdict that Arizona lacked, we
`have previously made clear that this distinction is imma-
`terial: “It is true that in Florida the jury recommends a
`sentence, but it does not make specific factual findings
`with regard to the existence of mitigating or aggravating
`circumstances and its recommendation is not binding on
`the trial judge. A Florida trial court no more has the
`assistance of a jury’s findings of fact with respect to sen-
`tencing issues than does a trial judge in Arizona.” Walton
`v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 648 (1990); accord, State v.
`
`Steele, 921 So. 2d 538, 546 (Fla. 2005) (“[T]he trial court
`alone must make detailed findings about the existence and
`weight of aggravating circumstances; it has no jury find-
`
`ings on which to rely”).
`As with Timothy Ring, the maximum punishment Timo-
`
`thy Hurst could have received without any judge-made
`
`findings was life in prison without parole. As with Ring, a
`judge increased Hurst’s authorized punishment based on
`her own factfinding. In light of Ring, we hold that Hurst’s
`
`
`sentence violates the Sixth Amendment.
`III
`
` Without contesting Ring’s holding, Florida offers a bevy
`
`of arguments for why Hurst’s sentence is constitutional.
`
`None holds water.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`A
`
`Florida concedes that Ring required a jury to find every
`fact necessary to render Hurst eligible for the death pen-
`
`alty. But Florida argues that when Hurst’s sentencing jury
`recommended a death sentence, it “necessarily included a
`finding of an aggravating circumstance.” Brief for Re-
`spondent 44. The State contends that this finding quali-
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`fied Hurst for the death penalty under Florida law, thus
`satisfying Ring.
`“[T]he additional requirement that a
`
` judge also find an aggravator,” Florida concludes, “only
`provides the defendant additional protection.” Brief for
`Respondent 22.
`The State fails to appreciate the central and singular
`
`role the judge plays under Florida law. As described
`above and by the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida
`sentencing statute does not make a defendant eligible for
`death until “findings by the court that such person shall be
`punished by death.” Fla. Stat. §775.082(1) (emphasis
`added). The trial court alone must find “the facts . . .
`
`[t]hat sufficient aggravating circumstances exist” and
`“[t]hat there are insufficient mitigating circumstances to
`outweigh the aggravating circumstances.” §921.141(3);
`see Steele, 921 So. 2d, at 546. “[T]he jury’s function under
`the Florida death penalty statute is advisory only.” Spa-
`ziano v. State, 433 So. 2d 508, 512 (Fla. 1983). The State
`cannot now treat the advisory recommendation by the jury
`as the necessary factual finding that Ring requires.
`
`B
`Florida launches its second salvo at Hurst himself,
`
`arguing that he admitted in various contexts that an
`aggravating circumstance existed. Even if Ring normally
`requires a jury to hear all facts necessary to sentence a
`defendant to death, Florida argues, “Ring does not require
`jury findings on facts defendants have admitted.” Brief for
`Respondent 41. Florida cites our decision in Blakely v.
`Washington, 542 U. S. 296 (2004), in which we stated that
`under Apprendi, a judge may impose any sentence author-
`ized “on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict
`or admitted by the defendant.” 542 U. S., at 303 (empha-
`sis deleted). In light of Blakely, Florida points to various
`
`
`instances in which Hurst’s counsel allegedly admitted the
`existence of a robbery. Florida contends that these “ad-
`
`
`
`
`
`7
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`8
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
` missions” made Hurst eligible for the death penalty. Brief
`for Respondent 42–44.
`Blakely, however, was a decision applying Apprendi to
`
`facts admitted in a guilty plea, in which the defendant
`necessarily waived his right to a jury trial. See 542 U. S.,
`
`at 310–312. Florida has not explained how Hurst’s alleged
`admissions accomplished a similar waiver. Florida’s
`argument is also meritless on its own terms. Hurst never
`admitted to either aggravating circumstance alleged by
`the State. At most, his counsel simply refrained from
`
`challenging the aggravating circumstances in parts of his
`appellate briefs. See, e.g., Initial Brief for Appellant in
`
`
`No. SC12–1947 (Fla.), p. 24 (“not challeng[ing] the trial
`court’s findings” but arguing that death was nevertheless
`
`a disproportionate punishment).
`C
`
`The State next argues that stare decisis compels us to
`uphold Florida’s capital sentencing scheme. As the Flor-
`
`ida Supreme Court observed, this Court “repeatedly has
`reviewed and upheld Florida’s capital sentencing statute
`over the past quarter of a century.” Bottoson v. Moore, 833
`So. 2d 693, 695 (2002) (per curiam) (citing Hildwin, 490
`
`U. S. 638; Spaziano, 468 U. S. 447). “In a comparable
`situation,” the Florida court reasoned, “the United States
`Supreme Court held:
`‘If a precedent of this Court has direct application in a
`case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some
`other line of decisions, the [other courts] should follow
`the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court
`the prerogative of overruling its own decisions.’” Bot-
`
`toson, 833 So. 2d, at 695 (quoting Rodriguez de Quijas
`v. Shearson/American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477,
`484 (1989)); see also 147 So. 3d, at 446–447 (case
`below).
`
`
`
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`
`
`

`
`9
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`
`
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`
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` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`We now expressly overrule Spaziano and Hildwin in
`
`
` relevant part.
` Spaziano and Hildwin summarized earlier precedent to
`
`
`conclude that “the Sixth Amendment does not require that
`the specific findings authorizing the imposition of the
`sentence of death be made by the jury.” Hildwin, 490
`U. S., at 640–641. Their conclusion was wrong, and irrec-
`oncilable with Apprendi. Indeed, today is not the first
`
`time we have recognized as much. In Ring, we held that
`another pre-Apprendi decision—Walton, 497 U. S. 639—
`could not “survive the reasoning of Apprendi.” 536 U. S.,
`
`at 603. Walton, for its part, was a mere application of
`Hildwin’s holding to Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme.
`
`497 U. S., at 648.
`“Although ‘“the doctrine of stare decisis is of fundamen-
`tal importance to the rule of law[,]” . . . [o]ur precedents
`are not sacrosanct.’ . . . ‘[W]e have overruled prior deci-
`sions where the necessity and propriety of doing so has
`been established.’” Ring, 536 U. S., at 608 (quoting Pat-
`
`terson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U. S. 164, 172 (1989)).
`And in the Apprendi context, we have found that “stare
`decisis does not compel adherence to a decision whose
`‘underpinnings’ have been ‘eroded’ by subsequent devel-
`opments of constitutional law.” Alleyne, 570 U. S., at ___
`(SOTOMAYOR, J., concurring) (slip op., at 2); see also United
`States v. Gaudin, 515 U. S. 506, 519–520 (1995) (over-
`ruling Sinclair v. United States, 279 U. S. 263 (1929));
`Ring, 536 U. S., at 609 (overruling Walton, 497 U. S., at
`639); Alleyne, 570 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 15) (overruling
`Harris v. United States, 536 U. S. 545 (2002)).
`Time and subsequent cases have washed away the logic
`
`of Spaziano and Hildwin. The decisions are overruled to
`the extent they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggra-
`vating circumstance, independent of a jury’s factfinding,
`that is necessary for imposition of the death penalty.
`
`
`
`
`
`
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`
`
`

`
`10
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
`Opinion of the Court
`D
`
`Finally, we do not reach the State’s assertion that any
`error was harmless. See Neder v. United States, 527 U. S.
`1, 18–19 (1999) (holding that the failure to submit an
`uncontested element of an offense to a jury may be harm-
`less). This Court normally leaves it to state courts to
`consider whether an error is harmless, and we see no
`
`reason to depart from that pattern here. See Ring, 536
`U. S., at 609, n. 7.
`
`
`
`
`*
`*
`*
`
`
`
`The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an
`impartial jury. This right required Florida to base Timo-
`
`
`thy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a
`judge’s factfinding. Florida’s sentencing scheme, which
`required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggra-
`vating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional.
`
`The judgment of the Florida Supreme Court is reversed,
`
`and the case is remanded for further proceedings not
`
`inconsistent with this opinion.
`
`
`
`
`So ordered.
`
`
`
`

`
`
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`
` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
` BREYER, J., concurring in judgment
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`1
`
`_________________
`
` No. 14–7505
`_________________
`TIMOTHY LEE HURST, PETITIONER v. FLORIDA
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF
`
`
`FLORIDA
`
`
`[January 12, 2016]
`
` JUSTICE BREYER, concurring in the judgment.
`
`For the reasons explained in my opinion concurring in
`
`the judgment in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584, 613–619
`(2002), I cannot join the Court’s opinion. As in that case,
`however, I concur in the judgment here based on my view
`that “the Eighth Amendment requires that a jury, not a
`judge, make the decision to sentence a defendant to
`death.” Id., at 614; see id., at 618 (“[T]he danger of un-
`warranted imposition of the [death] penalty cannot be
`
`avoided unless ‘the decision to impose the death penalty is
`made by a jury rather than by a single government offi-
`cial’” (quoting Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S. 447, 469
`
`(1984) (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in
`
`part))). No one argues that Florida’s juries actually sen-
`tence capital defendants to death—that job is left to Flor-
`ida’s judges. See Fla. Stat. §921.141(3) (2010). Like the
`majority, therefore, I would reverse the judgment of the
`Florida Supreme Court.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
` ALITO, J., dissenting
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`1
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`_________________
`
` No. 14–7505
`_________________
`TIMOTHY LEE HURST, PETITIONER v. FLORIDA
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF
`
`
`FLORIDA
`
`[January 12, 2016]
`
` JUSTICE ALITO, dissenting.
`As the Court acknowledges, “this Court ‘repeatedly has
`
`
`reviewed and upheld Florida’s capital sentencing statute
`over the past quarter of a century.’” Ante, at 8. And as
`
`
`the Court also concedes, our precedents hold that “‘the
`Sixth Amendment does not require that the specific find-
`ings authorizing the imposition of the sentence of death be
`made by the jury.’” Ante, at 9 (quoting Hildwin v. Florida,
`490 U. S. 638, 640–641 (1989) (per curiam); emphasis
`
`added); see also Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U. S. 447, 460
`
`(1984). The Court now reverses course, striking down
`Florida’s capital sentencing system, overruling our deci-
`sions in Hildwin and Spaziano, and holding that the Sixth
`Amendment does require that the specific findings author-
`izing a sentence of death be made by a jury. I disagree.
`I
`
`First, I would not overrule Hildwin and Spaziano with-
`out reconsidering the cases on which the Court’s present
`
`decision is based. The Court relies on later cases holding
`
`that any fact that exposes a defendant to a greater pun-
`ishment than that authorized by the jury’s guilty verdict is
`an element of the offense that must be submitted to a jury.
`Ante, at 5. But there are strong reasons to question
`whether this principle is consistent with the original
`understanding of the jury trial right. See Alleyne v. United
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`2
`
`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
` ALITO, J., dissenting
`
`
`States, 570 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2013) (ALITO, J., dissent-
`ing) (slip op., at 1–2). Before overruling Hildwin and
`
`Spaziano, I would reconsider the cases, including most
`prominently Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584 (2002), on
`which the Court now relies.
`
`Second, even if Ring is assumed to be correct, I would
`not extend it. Although the Court suggests that today’s
`holding follows ineluctably from Ring, the Arizona sen-
`tencing scheme at issue in that case was much different
`
`from the Florida procedure now before us. In Ring, the
`jury found the defendant guilty of felony murder and did
`no more. It did not make the findings required by the
`Eighth Amendment before the death penalty may be
`imposed in a felony-murder case. See id., at 591–592, 594;
`Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782 (1982); Tison v. Arizona,
`481 U. S. 137 (1987). Nor did the jury find the presence of
`any aggravating factor, as required for death eligibility
`
`under Arizona law. Ring, supra, at 592–593. Nor did it
`
`consider mitigating factors. And it did not determine
`whether a capital or noncapital sentence was appropriate.
`Under that system, the jury played no role in the capital
`sentencing process.
`
`
`The Florida system is quite different. In Florida, the
`jury sits as the initial and primary adjudicator of the
`factors bearing on the death penalty. After unanimously
`determining guilt at trial, a Florida jury hears evidence of
`aggravating and mitigating circumstances. See Fla. Stat.
`§921.141(1) (2010). At the conclusion of this separate
`sentencing hearing, the jury may recommend a death
`sentence only if it finds that the State has proved one or
`more aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt and
`only after weighing the aggravating and mitigating fac-
`tors. §921.141(2).
`
`Once the jury has made this decision, the trial court
`performs what amounts, in practical terms, to a reviewing
`function. The judge duplicates the steps previously per-
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`3
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`
` ALITO, J., dissenting
`
`
`formed by the jury and, while the court can impose a
`sentence different from that recommended by the jury, the
`judge must accord the jury’s recommendation “great
`weight.” See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U. S. 518, 525–
`526 (1997) (recounting Florida law and procedure). In-
`deed, if the jury recommends a life sentence, the judge
`may override that decision only if “the facts suggesting a
`sentence of death were so clear and convincing that virtu-
`ally no reasonable person could differ.” Tedder v. State,
`322 So. 2d 908, 910 (Fla. 1975) (per curiam). No Florida
`trial court has overruled a jury’s recommendation of a life
`sentence for more than 15 years.
`Under the Florida system, the jury plays a critically
`
`
`important role. Our decision in Ring did not decide
`whether this procedure violates the Sixth Amendment,
`and I would not extend Ring to cover the Florida system.
`II
`
`Finally, even if there was a constitutional violation in
`
`this case, I would hold that the error was harmless beyond
`a reasonable doubt. See Chapman v. California, 386 U. S.
`18, 24 (1967). Although petitioner attacks the Florida
`system on numerous grounds, the Court’s decision is based
`on a single perceived defect, i.e., that the jury’s determina-
`tion that at least one aggravating factor was proved is not
`binding on the trial judge. Ante, at 6. The Court makes
`
`no pretense that this supposed defect could have preju-
`diced petitioner, and it seems very clear that it did not.
`Attempting to show that he might have been prejudiced
`
`by the error, petitioner suggests that the jury might not
`
`have found the existence of an aggravating factor had it
`been instructed that its finding was a prerequisite for the
`imposition of the death penalty, but this suggestion is
`hard to credit. The jury was told to consider two aggravat-
`ing factors: that the murder was committed during the
`course of a robbery and that it was especially “heinous,
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`HURST v. FLORIDA
`
` ALITO, J., dissenting
`
`
`atrocious, or cruel.” App. 212. The evidence in support of
`both factors was overwhelming.
`
`The evidence with regard to the first aggravating fac-
`tor—that the murder occurred during the commission of a
`robbery—was as follows. The victim, Cynthia Harrison,
`an assistant manager of a Popeye’s restaurant, arrived at
`work between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on the date of her
`death. When other employees entered the store at about
`10:30 a.m., they found that she had been stabbed to death
`and that the restaurant’s safe was open and the previous
`day’s receipts were missing. At trial, the issue was
`whether Hurst committed the murder. There was no
`suggestion that the murder did not occur during the rob-
`bery. Any alternative scenario—for example, that Cynthia
`Harrison was first murdered by one person for some
`reason other than robbery and that a second person
`came upon the scene shortly after the murder and some-
`how gained access to and emptied the Popeye’s safe—is
`fanciful.
`
`The evidence concerning the second aggravating fac-
`tor—that the murder was especially “heinous, atrocious, or
`cruel”—was also overwhelming. Cynthia Harrison was
`bound, gagged, and stabbed more than 60 times. Her
`injuries included “facial cuts that went all the way down to
`the underlying bone,” “cuts through the eyelid region” and
`“the top of her lip,” and “a large cut to her neck which
`almost severed her trachea.” Id., at 261. It was e

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