Hurst v Florida

Hurst challenged his deaths sentence in Florida state courts arguing the state’s sentencing scheme violated the 6th Amendment. The Florida Supreme court rejected the challenge holding the jury recommendation followed by judicial determination of aggravating factors was constitutional. The Court, 7 member majority plus Breyer concurring in judgment-1, disagreed and reversed. The majority held that under Court precedent, all facts which could lead to the imposition of a death sentence must be found by a jury, this precedent is indistinguishable from the Florida scheme as the jury only makes an advisory recommendation while the sentencing judge makes actual factual findings. It further held that Hurst did not admit the aggravating factor of robbery in the state proceedings and that past affirmances of Florida’s scheme do not change the outcome here as the cases no longer comport with the current understanding of the 6th Amendment’s requirement that juries find facts which enhance sentences. The case was remanded for harmlessness analysis. Justice Breyer concurred in judgment on the basis of his view that the 8th Amendment requires juries to decide whether to impose a death sentence. Justice Alito dissented arguing that jury finding of sentence enhancing facts is not required and Florida’s sentencing scheme is different from Arizona’s which was struck down as the jury there played no role and here the jury makes recommendations which require findings of aggravating facts and balancing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. He also argued any error was harmless as evidence of heinousness and murder during a robbery, the only aggravators sent to the jury, was overwhelming.

Bruce v Samuels

Bruce filed several lawsuits in forma pauperis under 28 USC 1915. He sought to have the mandatory subsequent partial filing fee payments under 1915(b)(2) consolidated instead of paid on each suit sequentially. The DC Circuit rejected his request and ordered payment sequentially on all suits until paid in full. Resolving a circuit split on whether the subsequent partial filing fee payments should be per case or per prisoner, the Court unanimously affirmed. It held that 1915(b)’s language “an initial” fee, “a civil action” and “an appeal” plus the whole structure of the provision indicate a single case focus which dictates a per case payment scheme. It noted this approach also serves the purposes of deterring frivolous suits and has proved workable in jurisdictions which follow it.