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Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Federal Cases

by TChris

Federal law makes a life sentence the default punishment when a federal jury can’t unanimously agree to impose the death penalty. The Justice Department wants to change that law, and it’s managed to sneak a change into the House version of the bill that would renew the Patriot Act.

So long as at least one juror voted for death, prosecutors could empanel a new sentencing jury and argue again that execution was warranted.

Former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White doesn’t think the government “should have two bites at that apple.”

"There's something untoward about giving the impression that you're jury shopping for the death penalty."

As Jesselyn McCurdy, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, argues, “If there is one person who has a doubt about whether someone should be put to death, that should be doubt enough.” And if the Justice Department can’t convince a jury to impose death after taking its best shot, it shouldn’t be permitted to keep shooting.

Those who argue that it’s only fair to give the government repeated chances to impose the death penalty ignore the rules of jury selection that already stack the deck in the government’s favor.

Jennifer Daskal, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Washington, said the requirement that jurors in capital cases be open to imposing the death penalty already favored prosecutors. The possibility of repeated attempts to obtain death sentences from such "death qualified" juries, she said, would only heighten the advantages prosecutors have.

The proposed change isn't part of the Senate version of the law. The conference committee should be encouraged to drop the provision. At the very least, the change deserves the debate it would receive if it were introduced as a separate bill.

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    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#1)
    by nolo on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    Ech. That's ghoulish.

    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#2)
    by Pete Guither on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    What is it about this administration that makes it so incredibly anxious to kill people? There's a blood-lust that's a bit sickening. There's a term that I've been using at Drug WarRant to describe certain drug warriors like Mark Souder -- "sado-moralists" -- ones who actually seem to 'get off' on punishment that they impose through their own system of moral judgment. These people don't want rehabilitation and don't care about results. Often, they don't even care about innocence or guilt. They just want their perverted fix of punishment. It appears that there are a lot of sado-moralists out there right now, many of them working for, or supporting, this administration.

    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#3)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    Jesus, why not just let that one juror settle this issue completely?

    I don't support this change to the law, since it seems odd to allow a jury different from the one who found a person guilty to set the punishment (realizing we do something similar when a judge sets the sentence, but at least that is their job to some extent). Nevertheless, the write up by TChris is just another example in a long line of over the top editorializing. The Justice Department wants to change that law, and itís managed to sneak a change into the House version of the bill that would renew the Patriot Act. The Justice Department may well support this change to the law, but it has not "snuck" a change into the House bill in question. An elected Representative, of Texas at it happens to be, proposed an Amendment to the bill, which is how these things are done in our system of government. That Representative may wellbe working with people in the Justice Department, but the Department itself does not introduce legislation in Congress, and this verbiage seeks to make it seem otherwise and to seem as if the Department is making an end run around Congress. A semantic argument? Sure. But so is saying that the Department has snuck something into a bill just because you don't approve of it. Why not just admit the trut and fight a fiar fight as well as a good fight. Why misrepresent the situation?

    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#5)
    by The Heretik on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    The spirit of Inspector Javert lives on and we are but Les Miserables? The bill in question also expands the number of circumstances under which a defendant can be put to death. More on this at KILL BILL

    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#6)
    by roger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    Why am I not suprised that the amendment is coming out of Texas?

    Don't CA prosecutors get a retrial of the penalty phase if there's a hung jury? How do other states deal with this? Seems like a rare instance of Federal law being more progressive, but of course, that's being taken care of now.

    Re: Bill Would Permit Repeated Death Trials in Fed (none / 0) (#8)
    by Che's Lounge on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    Haven't these morons ever heard of double jeapordy?

    "[TChris,] Why misrepresent the situation?" Yes, something I've been asking him for months. He hurts his own causes since his misrepresentations are almost always discovered. Makes me wonder what he's like in court.