The Substitution of Words for Analysis and Other Judicial Pitfalls: Why David Sattazahn Should Have Received Double Jeopardy Protection

By Chu, David | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Substitution of Words for Analysis and Other Judicial Pitfalls: Why David Sattazahn Should Have Received Double Jeopardy Protection


Chu, David, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 537 U.S. 101 (2003)

I. INTRODUCTION

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)

II. BACKGROUND

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. …

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