Supreme Court Delines to Hear Challenge to Victim Impact Videos in Death Penalty Trials
For quite some time, prosecutors were prevented from offering "victim impact" evidence during the penalty phase of a death penalty trial. This made perfect sense, because the decision whether a murderer should be executed shouldn't depend upon how sympathetic the victim could be made to appear, or how many grieving friends and relatives were left behind. That changed in 1991.
Writing for a 6 to 3 majority, then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said prosecutors could balance the virtually unlimited defense mitigation evidence by offering "a quick glimpse of the life" of the victim. But the court laid out little specific guidance beyond saying that victim impact evidence must not be "unduly prejudicial."
The "quick glimpse" language gave birth to an industry that produces "life of the victim" videos, set to music. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court recently declined to decide whether that kind of video evidence crosses the line that the Court drew in 1991. [more ...]
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