Thursday, January 21, 2016

SCOTUS: End of the death penalty near--not so fast

The U.S. Supreme Court restored death sentences this week for three Kansas murderers by an 8-1 vote, undercutting predictions by some that a majority of the justices is ready to strike down capital punishment nationwide, reported the Los Angeles Times.
The Court ruled in Kansas v. Carr that a jury in a death penalty case does not need to be advised that mitigating factors which can lessen the severity of a criminal act, do not need to proven beyond a reasonable doubt like aggravating factors. The defendants argued that without this instruction the jury would have understood that the mitigating factors had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Speaking in court, Justice Antonin Scalia described the "notorious Wichita Massacre" in which two brothers broke into a home, tortured five young men and women and then took them to a snowy field where they were "shot in the back of the head, execution-style."
Amazingly, one young woman survived when a hair clip deflected a bullet, and she later testified against Reginald and Jonathan Carr. A jury convicted the pair of the four murders and sentenced them to death.
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed both death sentences as well as another for Sidney Gleason, a paroled inmate who participated in the robbing and killing of an elderly man over $35 and a box of cigarettes. Gleason then murdered two others who knew about that killing.
The state justices said the jurors may have been confused about whether they had to agree on a single reason for extending mercy to the killers. 
All the members of the court joined Scalia's opinion in full, except Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who issued a partial dissent. She did not endorse the state court's decision, but instead said the justices should have passed up the chance to review it."The standard adage teaches that hard cases make bad law," she said. "I fear that these cases suggest a corollary: Shocking cases make too much law. Because I believe the court should not have granted certiorari here, I respectfully dissent."
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