Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 123 S. Ct. 732; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 748; 71 U.S.L.W. 4023 (2003)

Sattazahn v. Pennsylvania, 123 S. Ct. 732; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 748; 71 U.S.L.W. 4023 (2003)

Facts—Pennsylvania law requires that a jury must consider aggravating and mitigating factors in the verdict phase of a capital crime. If the jury does not unanimously agree on the penalty, the judge must enter a life sentence. After a jury deadlocked 9–3 for life in prison, a judge imposed a life sentence on Sattazahn, who had been convicted of participating in a murder in the course of an armed robbery. Sattazahn appealed his conviction for first-degree murder, and, ruling that the trial judge’s instructions to the jury had been improper, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed Sattazahn’s convictionand ordered a new trial. In this trial, in which an additional aggravating factor was introduced, the jury approved the death sentence, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed.

Question—Does the imposition of the death penalty in the second trial violate the double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment or the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Scalia (5–4). When a defendant initiates an appeal of his conviction, double jeopardy is not implicated. Bullington v. Missouri (1981) decided that the double jeopardy provision applies only when sentencing proceedings “have the hallmarks of the trial on guilt or innocence.” Furthermore, “an ‘acquittal’ at a trial-like sentencing phase, rather than the mere imposition of a life sentence, is required to give rise to double jeopardy protections.” Scalia noted that “normally, ‘a retrial following a “hung jury” does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.’” Double jeopardy only applies where there has been an acquittal, and there had been none here. The judge’s imposition of a sentence in the first case was a “default judgment.” Other capital cases have entrusted such determinations to a jury. Here neither the judge nor the jury “acquitted” the defendant. The judgment against Sattazahn does not present a case of “an all-powerful state relentlessly pursuing a defendant who had either been found not guilty or who had at least insisted on having the issue of guilt submitted to the first trier of fact.” Similarly, the defendant was given due process so there was no independent violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

J. O’Connor concurred while questioning the decisions in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) and Ring v. Arizona (2002).

J. Ginsburg’s dissent, although acknowledging that the issue was close and “genuinely debatable,” argued that this case constituted double jeopardy both because it “confronts defendants with a perilous choice,” of either not appealing their convictions or risking their lives in so doing and because the death penalty is “unique in both its severity and finality.”

Leave a Reply