October 26, 2005
CrimProf Comments on House's "Second Chance Federal Death Sentence" Provision
From NYTimes.com: "If all 12 members of a jury in a capital case in federal court cannot agree on whether to impose the death penalty, a convicted defendant is automatically sentenced to life in prison.
But that may be about to change. A little-noticed provision in the House bill that reauthorized the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act would allow federal prosecutors further attempts at a death sentence if a capital jury deadlocks on the punishment. So long as at least one juror voted for death, prosecutors could empanel a new sentencing jury and argue again that execution was warranted.
The Senate bill does not contain the provision, and representatives of both chambers will soon meet to discuss the differences between the two measures and potential compromises.
Sentencing deadlocks in federal capital trials are not unusual. In a federal terrorism trial in New York in 2001, for instance, the government sought the death penalty against two operatives of Al Qaeda for their roles in the deadly bombings of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998. The jury deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of death in both cases, interviews conducted by The New York Times later revealed...
California and a handful of other states already allow new capital sentencing hearings...
State prosecutors said the federal jury provision could start a welcome trend. 'It sounds pretty even-handed,' said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore. Just as juries must generally reach unanimous verdicts for conviction or acquittal, he said, they should be required to reach a unanimous decision on life or death.
[CrimProf Franklin E. Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley]...disagreed. 'It's not supposed to be a level playing field,' he said. 'It's supposed to be a penalty available when nothing else will do.'
Jennifer Daskal, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Washington [echoes Zimring's sentiments]....The possibility of repeated attempts to obtain death sentences from such 'death qualified' juries, she said, would only heighten the advantages prosecutors have." Story... [Mark Godsey]
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