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Williams v. New York

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant appealed from a death sentence, when it was determined by evidence that had been considered of his criminal record, because he was not given the opportunity for cross-examination.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Whether a defendant’s rights to due process have been violated when his criminal record is used against him as a means of enhancing his sentence.

    Facts. A jury in New York State court found appellant guilty of murder in the first degree, and recommended life imprisonment. The trial judge imposed a sentence of death after considering additional information of the defendant’s criminal record. Williams sought an appeal on the basis that he was not given the opportunity for cross-examination or rebuttal.

    Issue. Whether use of a defendant’s criminal record in sentencing is tantamount to a violation of their right to due process.

    Held. Due process should not be considered a wall that is impenetrable by the evidentiary process that a judge must go through in determining sentencing. Affirmed.

    Dissent. Justice Murphy, for the dissent, argues that due process accords a defendant a fair trial at every stage and, by including evidence of a criminal record at sentencing, without affording the defendant a means of rebuttal, the defendant is necessarily being deprived of that right.

    Discussion. Due process is not a complete bar to the inclusion of evidence when it is to be considered by a Judge at the sentencing stage.

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