Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447 (1984)

Spaziano was indicted and convicted of first-degree murder more than two years after the offense occurred. Under Florida law, the statute of limitations for noncapital offenses was two years. The trial judge declined to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of second-degree and third-degree murder and manslaughter, because Spaziano refused to waive the statute of limitations for those offenses. After the jury recommended a life sentence, the trial judge imposed a death sentence. On appeal, Spaziano argued that the omission of lesser included offenses in the jury instructions denied him a fair trial and that judicial override of a life sentence recommendation violates the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy provision and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial.

The Court held that although a lesser included offense instruction is ordinarily an element of a constitutionally fair trial, the principle does not apply where, as here, the defendant cannot be convicted of the lesser included offenses. Furthermore, the Court denied that the trial judge’s rejection of the jury’s sentencing recommendation violates a constitutional right. First, because the jury’s recommendation is merely advisory, it does not constitute a judgment that triggers double jeopardy. In addition, regardless of whether most jurisdictions rest capital sentencing authority in juries, the Sixth Amendment does not preclude judicial determination of a capital sentence. In subsequent decisions, the Court has held that juries rather than judges must perform the factfinding role but has left undisturbed its holding in Spaziano that the Sixth Amendment does not require jury sentencing.

MARY SIGLER

References and Further Reading

  • Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).

See also Barclay v. Florida, 463 U.S. 939 (1983); Capital Punishment and Sentencing; Jury Trial Right

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