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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Dylann Roof Wants The Jury Reminded They Are Never Required To Impose The Death Penalty

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Lawyers for the accused Charleston shooter responded to the prosecutors' motion to limit his use of a "mercy" defense at trial.

Dylann Roof's defense attorney responded this week to the prosecution's request that the court limit the accused Charleston church shooter's use of a "mercy" defense when he goes on trial for the killing of 9 people on June 17, 2015 inside the Emanuel AME church.

The main point being debated by each side in the case is whether or not it is appropriate for the judge to instruct the jury that each juror is by law never required to impose a sentence of death in any case. 

The prosecution's position is that mercy may enter into the debate over Roof's sentence as a possible mitigating factor to be discussed during the sentencing phase of the trial, should Roof be convicted, but not before.

Roof's attorneys write that in their motion the government "conflates 2 distinct concepts in federal capital jury instruction."

'[F]irst, that the [Federal Death Penalty Act], by its terms, never requires a jury to impose a death sentence prior to discretionary finding that any aggravating factors sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors," Roof's attorneys write. "[A]nd 2nd, the separate argument that, following the weighing process and a finding that the death penalty is justified, jurors should be permitted to exercise mercy and impose a sentence of life without the possibility of release."

Roof's attorneys add that the jurors need to be instructed on this point that a death sentence is never required of them in order to avoid confusion or an assumption that "the law will have determined in advance what crimes and offenders are to be punished by death."

"This persistent and widespread confusion should not come as a complete surprise," the attorneys write. "Few jurors - or judges, for that matter - will be glad to learn that the life of a fellow human being has been consigned to their discretionary moral judgement. Faced with this prospect, it is simpler to believe - even if it is not true - that the law itself provides the answer to the momentous question of life and death."

Earlier this week, the federal judge in the case ordered that jury selection will begin on Sept. 26 with 3,000 prospective jurors asked to appear at the district courthouse in Charleston. 

Phase one of jury selection will involve filling out a questionnaire that will include a list of possible witnesses - prospective jurors who know these witnesses will be excused. The questioning of individuals jurors has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7.

Roof's attorneys write that they intend to include an instruction to jurors stating that they are not required to impose the death penalty in any case when they submit their proposed jury instructions on Oct. 11.

Source: BuzzFeedNews, September 17, 2016

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