Lawyers: Juries, not judges, should impose death sentences

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio's capital punishment law is unconstitutional because judges, not juries, impose death sentences in contrast to the 6th Amendment right to a jury trial, lawyers for a convicted killer argued before the state Supreme Court today.

Attorneys for ex-death row inmate Maurice Mason said a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring Florida's death penalty law unconstitutional based on the same jury principle should apply in Ohio.

In that ruling, the court said the 6th Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to determine each fact needed to sentence someone to death, Kort Gatterdam, a Columbus attorney representing Mason, told the court.

"A jury's mere recommendation is not enough," Gatterdam said.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, judges must conduct their own analyses of the pros and cons of sentencing someone to death, not just accept a jury's recommendation, Gatterdam said in a court filing last year.

In Ohio, if juries recommend capital punishment, judges impose the sentence. Ohio judges can reject death sentences but can't impose them if juries don't recommend them.

In defending the law, a prosecutor argued lawmakers struck the proper balance in the state's death-penalty law with the roles of Ohio judges and juries clearly defined.

In Florida, juries only had to agree that the heinousness of a crime outweighed arguments against a death sentence by a majority, Kevin Collins, an assistant Marion County prosecutor, said in a 2017 filing with the state Supreme Court.

By contrast, Ohio requires a unanimous vote. And Ohio law is far more strict about what juries must specify about factors that led them to impose a death sentence than the Florida law that was overturned, Collins said.

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