Death Sentence Solely on the Basis of a Jury's Verdict In Arizona

In Arizona, a defendant cannot be put to death solely on the basis of a jury's verdict, regardless of the jury's factual findings. The range of punishment allowed by law on the basis of the verdict alone is life imprisonment with the possibility of parole or imprisonment for "natural life" without the possibility of release. Thus, aside from a death sentence based on the trial court's post-trial findings, Arizona's former scheme prescribed a sentencing "range" for a first-degree murder conviction of natural life or life with the possibility of parole after either twenty-five or thirty-five years, depending on the victim's age. See former A.R.S. 13-703(A). And the jury's verdict alone authorized a sentence within that range. Under the former system, then, the trial court, presumably based on consideration of and findings on any aggravating and mitigating circumstances under 13-703, could constitutionally determine which of the two life sentence options within that range was most appropriate without violating Apprendi's principles. See State v. Viramontes, 204 Ariz. 360,P12, 64 P.3d 188, P12 (2003) ("The statutes limit sentencing procedures in a non-capital first degree murder case to those set forth in section 13-703."). Moreover, the same procedure apparently applies under Arizona's current statutes, as amended in 2002 in response to Ring II. See A.R.S. 13-703(A) (retaining distinction between sentences of natural life and life with possibility of parole); 13-703.01(A) ("If the state has not filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty and the defendant is convicted of first degree murder, the court shall determine whether to impose a sentence of life or natural life."); 13-703.01(H) ("If the trier of fact is a jury and the jury unanimously determines that the death penalty is not appropriate, the court shall determine whether to impose a sentence of life or natural life.").