Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence

I believe that jurors should be life-qualified not death-qualified to serve on a capital jury. But, that's not the law.

The Supreme Court today, in an opinion written Justice Anthony Kennedy, reinstated the death sentence of a Washington man whose sentence was overturned because a juror had said he would consider the death penalty only in limited circumstances.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, said that the Washington state judge who presided over the trial of Cal Coburn Brown properly used his discretion to excuse a potential juror who expressed equivocal views about the death penalty.

The juror in question was challenged by prosecutors because he indicated he would impose the death penalty only if the defendant were in the position to kill again. Jurors' options were limited: they could sentence Brown to death or life in prison with no parole.

The text of the opinion is here (pdf). As the 9th Circuit noted in deciding the case differently, the juror did not unequivocally impose the death penalty.


[T]he 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the juror should not have been excused because he said he would consider the death penalty in an appropriate case....

Per Justice Kennedy,

"But where, as here, there is lengthy questioning of a prospective juror and the trial court has supervised a diligent and thoughtful examination), the trial court has broad discretion," Kennedy wrote for the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the opinion.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in dissent, said:

...the court wiped away earlier decisions that allow death penalty opponents to sit on juries in capital cases, provided they demonstrate they can set aside their beliefs and follow the law.

TChris wrote more on Justice Stevens and his position on the death penalty here.

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    Kennedy's decision (none / 0) (#1)
    by naschkatze on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 12:17:30 PM EST
    Kennedy has turned into a stunning disappointment.  He's gone over to the right on the last three decisions.  In the not too distant past wasn't Kennedy criticized for giving weight to anti-death penalty laws of other nations in formulating his opinion on another capital punishment issue?  I can't remember if it had to do with age minority or mental disability.  Swing vote no longer.

    Should they not be qualifed for all penalties? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 01:09:15 PM EST
    I believe that jurors should be life-qualified not death-qualified to serve on a capital jury.

    It would seem that any juror that would refuse any lawful sentence should be barred from a jury.  That goes for death, life in tha slammer, a term of years, a fine, or any comnination.  

    twisted logic (none / 0) (#3)
    by gollo on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 04:05:21 PM EST
    The defense may have chosen not to object because Juror Z seemed substantially impaired. See 451 F. 3d, at 959 (Tallman, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc). Or defense counsel may have felt that Juror Z, a basketball referee whose stepbrother was a police officer, would have been favorable to the State. See App. 68, 74; 451 F. 3d, at 953, n. 9 (reasoning that "defense counsel declined to object because he was glad to get rid of juror Z. After all, Z had described himself as pro-death penalty . . . . Defense counsel must have thanked his lucky stars when the prosecutor bumped Z"). Or the failure to object may have been an attempt to introduce an error into the trial because the defense realized Brown's crimes were horrific and the mitigating evidence was weak. Although we do not hold that, because the defense may have wanted Juror Z on the jury, any error was harmless, neither must we treat the defense's acquiescence in Juror Z's removal as inconsequential.

    What kind of logic is being used here?

    A and B are regularly connected, therefore A is the cause of B.

    Personally reading the transcript, I think the juror was capable of following the law, even though he was not very eloquent about his position.