Nebraska high court overrules legislature on amended murder sentence

[JURIST] The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled [PDF text] Friday that members of the Nebraska Legislature [official website] overstepped their authority when they changed the minimum sentence for first-degree murder from life in prison to life in prison without parole in 2002. The legislature made the change during a 2002 special session called for by then-Governor Mike Johanns in response to the US Supreme Court ruling in Ring v. Arizona [text], which ended the practice of having a judge, rather than a jury, decide the critical sentencing issues in a death penalty case. The legislature changed state law during the special session to say that it is up to a jury, not a judge, to decide whether a defendant convicted of first-degree murder should get death. Judge Kenneth C. Stephan [official profile] wrote the court's opinion, arguing that the legislature overstepped its mandate at the special session because it was technically outside the scope of what the session convened to consider. The Lincoln Journal Star has more.



 

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