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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Brown v. Sanders: Invalidated Death Sentence Factors not determinative

In Brown v. Sanders, No. 04-980 (Jan. 11, 2006), the Supreme Court held that a death penalty jury’s consideration of aggravating factors which were later invalidated by the State’s Supreme Court did not unconstitutionally deprive the defendant to an individualized death sentence. The Court noted that the (new) test for such issues is that invalidated sentencing factor will render a death sentence unconstitutional by reason of its adding an improper element to the aggravation scale in the weighing process, unless one of the other sentencing factors enables the sentencer to give aggravating weight to the same facts and circumstances. In this case, even though two factors were invalidated, the broad instruction to give weight to the "circumstances of the crime" enabled the sentencer to give weight the same facts and circumstances. Hence, the sentence was valid.