Procedural History Timothy Hurst was undergoing a trial in court for the supposed killing of one of his co-workers, Cynthia Harrison.
After looking over the evidence brought to the attention of the jury, the jury decided on the death penalty. The judge went through some fact finding, and decided to hand Hurst the death penalty, but Hurst appealed and took part in another sentence hearing. At Hurst’s second court hearing, the evidence was found to be overwhelmingly positive in implicating Hurst as the killer again, allowing the jury to find Hurst guilty and deserving of the death penalty, and the judge again found the facts prominent enough to decide on the death penalty. It was brought to the attention of Supreme court because of the argument that Hurst’s sentence violated the 6th Amendment in light of Ring v.
Arizona, a case that the Court saw Arizona’s sentencing scheme that let a judge not the jury to find the facts needed to sentence the death penalty. Facts of the Case On May 2, 1998, at a Popeyes restaurant where both Hurst and Cynthia worked, CynthiaHarrison’s body was found in the freezer, gagged, bound, and stabbed over 60 times. The safein the restaurant was found unlocked, and missing several hundred of dollars, as well as multiplecredit card slips from the previous day. Witnesses stated that Hurst said he was planning on robbing the restaurant before it occurred, that Hurst and Cynthia were the only employees scheduled to work at the time of the robbery, and that Hurst got rid of blood-stained evidence and used the money to buy rings and shoes. Hurst claimed he never made it to work due to his vehicle malfunctioning. He also claimed he called the restaurant ahead of time to let them know he would be late.
Hurst said Harrison sounded scared when she answered the phone, and that hecould hear whispering, presumably the real murderer, in the background.Issue Presented The primary issue is whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme to allow the judge instead of the jury to sentence the defendant to death went against the 6th Amendments right to a trial by jury or not?Decision of the Court Yes, the death penalty sentencing given to Hurst was deemed unconstitutional. The sixth amendment to the constitution requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact needed to determine a death sentence. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida was reversed.Reasoning of the Court The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to an impartial jury. Based on this, Florida was required to base Hurst’s sentence on the jury’s verdict rather than on the judge’s fact finding. The way Florida sentenced Hurst based on the judge’s findings of an aggressive instance is unconstitutional.Separate OpinionsJustice Breyer: His view was that “The eighth amendment requires that a jury, not a judge, make the decision to sentence a defendant to death.
” (Page 1, Breyer, J., Concurring in Judgement, Hurst v. Florida) Justice Breyer states that he would reverse the judgement ofthe Florida Supreme Court.Justice Alito: Justice Alito viewed that there should be no reason to reverse the Florida SupremeCourts decision on this case for a number of reasons.
He quotes a line from Tedder v State, “…the facts suggesting a sentence of death were so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.” (Alito, J, dissenting, Page 3 Hurst v. Florida) He brings thisquote up in light of the cruel and tortuous way Cynthia was murdered. The jury was told to consider how “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” the crime was when deciding on their judgment.Because the jury found the death sentence to be appropriate after viewing the evidence in this manner, the judge deciding on their own fact finding to deliver the death sentence was “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt”, in the eyes of Justice Alito.
Justice Alito would rule on the issue ofa harmless error, and would agree with the conclusion of the Florida Supreme Court.Personal Opinion I think, based on the evidence, Hurst should receive the death sentence. The tortuous andcruel way Cynthia was murdered personally angers me, and I think the death sentence is an appropriate judgment when considering the crime. But I understand what the implications of allowing a single person to sentence a defendant to death could bring, e.g.
the judge not the jury.So while I think Hurst should have been given the death penalty, I respect the Supreme Courts decision to reverse the Florida Supreme Court decision.