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Harvard Law Review

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criminal procedure, Sixth Amendment, Ex parte Hodges, death penalty




In Ring v. Arizona,' the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find beyond a reasonable doubt the aggravating circumstances necessary for imposition of the death penalty. The Court's narrow opinion emphasized that the jury must do all of the "factfinding necessary to put [a] defendant] to death," and it therefore appeared to leave intact the "hybrid" sentencing schemes of four states, which permitted the trial judge to impose the death penalty by overriding the jury's recommendation of a lesser sentence. Recently, in Ex parte Hodges, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a sentence of death imposed by a trial court judge over a jury's 8-4 recommendation of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court's decision raises crucial questions about Ring's scope and, by interpreting Ring so narrowly, leaves the power of judicial override susceptible to considerable abuse.

On January 4, 1998, Melvin Hodges and Marlo Murph robbed the Golden Corral restaurant in Opelika, Alabama, where Hodges was employed as a crew leader." When they arrived at the restaurant, they saw Elizabeth Seaton, a coworker of Hodges's, driving away in her van. They followed the van, made Seaton pull over, and then forced Seaton, at gunpoint, to drive back and open the restaurant safe. After the robbery, Murph and Hodges forced Seaton to drive around the area in her van. According to Murph's testimony, Hodges decided that Seaton "knew too much" and made Seaton pull the van over; at that point, he pulled Seaton from the van and, with Murph's aid, " began hitting and choking her." Eventually, Hodges got back into the van and ran over Seaton four times. Hodges and Murph then left together, ultimately abandoning the van at a nearby church. At trial, the jury found Hodges guilty of committing murder during the course of a robbery.'

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