Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 537 U.S. 101 (2003)
In Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court held that double jeopardy protection does not extend to a life sentence which is the product of a hung jury at the capital sentencing proceedings. (1) David Sattazahn was convicted of first-degree murder, but during the capital sentencing phase, the trial court determined the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. (2) As a result of the applicable state statutory law in Pennsylvania, the trial judge dismissed the jury and entered a life sentence against the defendant. (3) Sattazahn successfully appealed the conviction; (4) however, at retrial, the jury convicted him again of first-degree murder and unanimously agreed to the sentence of death. (5)
In a five-to-four decision, the Supreme Court ruled the second death sentence was not precluded by the Double Jeopardy Clause. (6) It reasoned that the initial sentence was not an "acquittal" of the death penalty since the life sentence was the product of an operation of law, not a unanimous jury decision based on factual adjudication. (7) Because no "acquittal" had occurred, the defendant was not legally entitled to the original sentence. (8) Furthermore, the majority rejected the dissent's reliance on United States v. Scott (9) for the proposition that double jeopardy protection can extend to situations where no "acquittal" has occurred. (10)
This Note argues that prior Supreme Court cases did not lead to the conclusion that an "acquittal" was necessary for legal entitlement to a life sentence. (11) Rather, the Pennsylvania statute governing capital sentencing proceedings created a legal entitlement to a life sentence in the situation of a hung jury. (12) In addition, this Note examines two situations where double jeopardy protection may apply even without factual adjudication of guilt or innocence: mistrials and termination of a trial in favor of the defendant before such factual adjudication. (13) Both situations occurred conceptually in this case, and the defendant met the threshold requirements for double jeopardy protection in both situations. (14)
A. THE DOUBLE JEOPARDY CLAUSE
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment states: "No person shall ... be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb...." (15) This clause protects the individual from being subjected to trial and possible conviction more than once for a particular crime. (16) The rationale behind such a design is straightforward:
the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense, and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty. (17)
B. THE PENNSYLVANIA STATUTE
The Pennsylvania statute guiding jury instructions in capital sentencing hearings reads:
(iii) aggravating circumstances (18) must be proved by the Commonwealth beyond a reasonable doubt; mitigating circumstances (19) must be proved by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.
(iv) the verdict must be a sentence of death if the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance specified in subsection (d) and no mitigating circumstance or if the jury unanimously finds one or more aggravating circumstances which outweigh any mitigating circumstances. The verdict must be a sentence of life imprisonment in all other eases.
(v) the court may, in its discretion, discharge the jury if it is of the opinion that further deliberation will not result in a unanimous agreement as to the sentence, in which case the court shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment. (20)
The statute essentially states that in order to sentence a defendant to capital punishment, the jury must unanimously vote for such a sentence. In all other cases, including when the jury is unable to reach a unanimous agreement, a defendant receives a life sentence.
C. CASE LAW ON DOUBLE JEOPARDY PROTECTION AT RETRIAL
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment stands for the principle that a person should not be tried or punished twice for the same offense. (21) In order to establish double jeopardy protection, one must first show the initial jeopardy has terminated. (22) This inquiry is particularly pertinent for the question of whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty at retrial. More specifically, if a defendant is convicted of a crime eligible for capital punishment and receives a life sentence, and then successfully appeals the conviction with the result of a retrial, does double jeopardy prevent the defendant from receiving the death penalty? In other words, did the jeopardy of capital punishment terminate with the entrance of the life sentence, or did that jeopardy remain for the retrial?
1. Double Jeopardy Protection Generally Does Not Preclude the Imposition of a Harsher Sentence at Retrial
The Supreme Court first addressed the issue in Stroud v. United States, where it ruled that a defendant who received a life sentence at trial could receive the death penalty at retrial. (23) In this case, the defendant was initially convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. (24) This judgment was overturned and the defendant was retried. (25) At retrial, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder "without capital punishment." (26) This judgment too was overturned, and at the second retrial, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder; however, the jury made no recommendation as to whether the conviction was with or without capital punishment. (27) With the lack of direction from the jury, the judge entered a death sentence without making additional factual inquiries. (28) On appeal, the defendant claimed the death sentence in the second retrial violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. (29)
Justice Day dismissed this argument; he reasoned that the "termination of jeopardy" inquiry should be focused on the trial of the offense as opposed to the sentence. (30) Because jeopardy never terminated with respect to the offense of first-degree murder, the Double Jeopardy Clause provided no protection. (31) The resulting sentence was merely the result of the conviction and was not the subject of the inquiry itself. (32)
The Supreme Court reaffirmed Stroud when it decided North Carolina v. Pearce. (33) The Court held the Double Jeopardy Clause did not prevent a harsher sentence at retrial. (34) The rationale behind this holding was that "a corollary of the power to retry a defendant is the power, upon the defendant's reconviction, to impose whatever sentence may be legally authorized, whether or not it is greater than the sentence imposed after the first conviction." (35) However, the Court pointed out that in this case, the first conviction was overturned at "the defendant's behest." (36)
2. Green and Bullington: The Court Establishes Protection in Certain Circumstances at Retrial
In Green v. United States, (37) the Court held that the conviction of second-degree murder at the first trial, when the jury had the opportunity to convict on first-degree murder, barred the prosecution from seeking first-degree murder at retrial. (38) In this case, the defendant was tried for an arson which resulted in the death of a person. (39) The trial judge gave the jury the instruction that it could find the defendant guilty of first- or second-degree murder. (40) The jury found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, and the defendant appealed. (41) At retrial, the defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. (42) The Supreme Court reversed the conviction of the retrial and reasoned "[The defendant] was in direct peril of being convicted and punished for first degree murder at his first trial. He was forced to run the gauntlet once on that charge and the jury refused to convict him." (43) Because the jury only had two choices in the first trial, to convict on either first-degree or second-degree murder, and chose to convict on the lesser charge, the defendant was now protected from prosecution on the greater charge.
Additionally, the Court, in Bullington v. Missouri, declined to extend the holding in Pearce to a situation where the sentencing procedures "have the hallmarks of a trial on guilt or innocence." (44) The defendant was tried and found guilty of the crime of capital murder. (45) During the sentencing phase, the jury was to take into consideration the existence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and it was also to determine whether the prosecution and defense had met specific standards of proof for these circumstances. (46) State law provided for only two sentences: death, or life in prison without the possibility of parole for fifty years. (47) In order to sentence the defendant to death, the jury was required to unanimously agree. (48) If the jury did not unanimously agree for the death penalty, the defendant would receive life imprisonment. (49) The jury unanimously agreed to a life sentence, and the defendant then entered a motion for a new trial because of a recent Supreme Court decision. (50) The trial court granted this motion. (51) On retrial, the prosecution provided notice that it intended to seek the death penalty again. (52) The trial court initially disallowed the State from seeking this sentence, but the Missouri Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the prosecution's position to seek capital punishment. (53)
The Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision because it found that the first trial was bifurcated: the first stage consisted of the determination of guilt or innocence, and the second stage consisted of the determination of the sentence. (54) While "[t]he imposition of a particular sentence usually is not regarded as an 'acquittal' of any more severe sentence that could have been imposed," (55) when that sentence is the product of a sentencing proceeding, the imposition of the lower sentence is an acquittal. (56) The reason for this distinction is "[i]n the usual sentencing proceeding ... it is impossible to conclude that a sentence less than the statutory maximum 'constitute[s] a decision to the effect that the government has failed to prove its case,'" (57) whereas, when a capital sentencing procedure resembles a trial, the jury explicitly determines whether the prosecution has proved its case. (58) Because the defendant received a sentence which was the product of a trial-like process, the sentence was protected by the Double Jeopardy Clause.
Even in cases where the capital sentencing proceeding is not conducted by a jury, the Supreme Court has found that as long as the proceedings are trial-like, the fact that a judge makes the factual determinations does not nullify double jeopardy protection. (59) In Arizona v. Rumsey, the trial judge conducted the capital sentencing proceeding and the requisite factual inquiries. (60) The court ruled that although the judge--instead of the jury--played the role of the sentencer, this did not "render the sentencing proceeding any less like a trial." (61)
3. Limitations on Bullington
In Poland v. Arizona, (62) the Supreme Court held that double jeopardy protection did not apply to a retrial sentence of capital punishment when the sentence of the first trial was also capital punishment, even when the aggravating circumstance used to support the capital sentence at retrial was specifically found to have insufficient support at the first trial. (63) In this case, the defendants were found guilty of first-degree murder after robbing an armored car and killing the two guards by placing them in weighted sacks and throwing them into a lake. (64) The prosecution argued the presence of two statutory aggravating circumstances: "(1) that [defendants] had 'committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, of [something] of pecuniary value'; (65) and (2) that [defendants] had 'committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner.'" (66) In the sentencing proceeding, the trial judge found insufficient evidence of the "pecuniary gain" circumstance, but found sufficient evidence of the "depraved manner" circumstance and sentenced the defendants to death. (67) The defendants appealed. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed and ordered a new trial because it found insufficient evidence to support the "depraved manner" circumstance. (68) At retrial, the defendants were again convicted and sentenced to death. (69) The sentence ultimately rested on the "pecuniary advantage" circumstance, which the first trial judge found not to be present. (70)
Affirming the second death sentence, the Supreme Court stated "the relevant inquiry in the cases before us is whether the sentencing judge or the reviewing court has 'decid[ed] that the prosecution has not proved its case' for the death penalty and hence has 'acquitted' petitioners." (71) With the inquiry set, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of an aggravating circumstance to support the second sentence of death, which was not present at the first sentence of death, did not violate double jeopardy because the prosecution proved its case for the death penalty in the first trial. (72) The Court reasoned that "[a]ggravating circumstances are not separate penalties or offenses, but are 'standards to guide the making of [the] choice' between the alternative verdicts of death and life imprisonment." (73) Because the defendants could not be "acquitted" of the "pecuniary gain" circumstance, the prosecution could use this circumstance at retrial. (74)
Further limiting the scope of Bullington, the Court also held that Bullington did not apply in a noncapital case. (75) In Monge v. California, (76) the defendant was convicted of a felony related to the sale of marijuana. (77) In a separate sentencing phase, the prosecution sought to prove that the defendant had been convicted of a prior serious felony. (78) Under California law, if the prosecution proved this circumstance, the defendant's maximum sentence could be doubled. (79) The trial court did find this circumstance, and sentenced the defendant to double the maximum term for the drug charge. (80) The defendant appealed, and the appellate court found insufficient evidence to support the "prior serious …