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SUPCO Rules State's Death Penalty Law Constitutional

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the state's three-decades-old death penalty law, rejecting a challenge that argued juries and not judges should impose death sentences. 

The court ruled against the contention by attorneys for a former death row inmate that the 1981 law is unconstitutional because judges, not juries, impose death sentences in contrast to the 6th Amendment right to a jury trial. The court says the law is constitutional because juries first determine whether an offender is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of aggravated murder. Juries then decide whether aggravated circumstances such as a killing committed during a rape or robbery outweigh factors that could lead to a lesser sentence, such as a defendant's background or substance abuse, according to Wednesday's ruling.That process adheres to the 6th Amendment. At issue were arguments brought by attorneys for 54-year-old Maurice Mason. They say a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring Florida's death penalty law unconstitutional based on the same jury principle should apply in Ohio. Mason was sentenced to die for raping and killing 19-year-old Robin Dennis in Marion County in 1993. A federal appeals court overturned Mason's death sentence on the basis of poor legal assistance, but he remains imprisoned. He's challenging a new sentencing hearing.