Supreme Court on death-qualified jurors
The Supreme Court today came down with Uttech v. Brown. The issue was ultimately whether a trial court properly removed a juror in a death-penalty case where there seemed to be some doubt about whether he could vote for the death penalty. (I say seemed to be some doubt because there was a lot of ambiguity: he said he supported the death penalty, and could impose it, esp. if a defendant might get outand but added that he'd just learned that if not sentenced to death the defendant would get life without parole, and that seemed to incline him against it.)
I can see the Court's emphasis that it must depend upon the trial court's assessment of the juror's demeanor. But I can't quite understand why death-qualified juries are still in use. The original rational was that the juror's objection to the death penalty would impermissibly contaminate their decision on guilt -- they'd be reluctant to convict, knowing that the judge might impose the death penalty. But today the jury votes on both issues, so there would be no likely contamination. In this context, holding that the State has a right, not only to jurors who can vote to convict, but who can impose the death penalty, means that a measurable part of the population is excluded from the jury. The result here also indicates that even a juror who supports the death penalty can be excluded, if his support is vague or has limits.
The Court Stated, "Capital defendants have the right to be sentenced by an impartial jury."
I question that broad statement as an incorrect co-mingling of the Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Defendants have a right to “an impartial jury” (Sixth Amendment). Since almost all felonies in 1776 and 1789 were capital offences, the death penalty was neither cruel nor unusual. The only question for the jury to consider was guilt or innocence with a presumption of innocence. Once guilt or innocence has been established, if guilt be the outcome, than it’s the State as the representative of the people that has the right to an impartial jury for sentencing.
A person who commits a crime has no expectation of impartiality of the sentencing as long as the sentence itself is not cruel, unusual or excessive. The next time I get a traffic ticket I hope I can challenge the outcome because I don't like it. The Judge was biased says Paris Hilton.
Posted by: Rudy DiGiacinto at June 4, 2007 08:17 PM
The prosecutors are entitled to a jury pool that can consider and impose all possible punishments in a death penalty case, including death. If a juror says they can't, won't or probably will not impose a death penalty in a death penalty case before it even starts, the prosecution has effectively lost the top penalty before even starting.
Jurors who can impose a death penalty many times do not do so. But at least the prosecutor knows it was the facts that kept them from the ultimate sentence, not a pre-conceived concreted objection unsupported by factual evidence of misdeeds from the trial.
Posted by: Oda Mae at June 6, 2007 01:36 PM
I don't like the death penalty. The only reason I don't like it is that prosecutors cheat too often. However, I must admit that it is constitutional and neither cruel nor unusual.
I could vote for it if I were convinced the accused deserved it and was guilty. There are some cases where I would gladly kill the sonofabitch myself. But those cases demand certainty.
I recall a whole bunch of death row inmates being released because of DNA evidence. Where it was eventually proven that the prosecution committed felonies in pursuit of the conviction.
My heartburn with the death penalty would disappear if and when there are laws passed that required prosecutors proven to have cheated and police proven to have perjured were to suffer the sentences visited upon their victims.
Posted by: straightarrow at June 8, 2007 12:14 AM