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Confronting Death: Sixth Amendment Rights at Capital Sentencing

John G. Douglass
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 105, No. 7 (Nov., 2005), pp. 1967-2028
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4099485
Page Count: 62
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Confronting Death: Sixth Amendment Rights at Capital Sentencing
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Abstract

Trial rights are different from sentencing rights. The Supreme Court has ruled that some Sixth Amendment rights (the right to counsel) apply at sentencing, while others (the right to a jury, the right to confront witnesses) do not. Because some rights are "in" at sentencing, and some are "out," the Court's recent terms have been consumed with cases-from Apprendi v. New Jersey, to Ring v. Arizona, to Blakely v. Washington, and finally to United States v. Booker-that struggle to draw the line between trial and sentencing. This Sixth Amendment line drawing is especially troublesome in death-penalty cases, where the Eighth Amendment already divides sentencing into eligibility issues and selection issues. As things now stand, the Court applies parts of the Sixth Amendment to parts of a capital sentencing proceeding. The unfortunate result is a confused doctrine that often calls for conflicting constitutional standards in a single sentencing. In this Article, I argue that the basic premise of these Sixth Amendment cases is misplaced when it comes to capital sentencing. Drawing on the history of unified trials in the era of the Framers, where guilt and death were determined simultaneously by a single jury verdict in a trial with full adversarial rights, I argue that the whole of the Sixth Amendment applies to the whole of a capital case. At the time of the framing, popular resistance to mandatory death penalties contributed heavily to the birth of the adversarial rights we now see in the Sixth Amendment. The Framers knew nothing of a "guilt" phase and a "penalty" phase. They crafted the Sixth Amendment not only to protect the innocent from punishment, but also to protect the guilty from undeserved death.

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