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Death Penalty

Kansas v. Carr - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 4-20-16 featuring Kent S. Scheidegger
Kent S. Scheidegger April 20, 2016

On January 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided three consolidated death penalty cases: Kansas v. Carr, a second Kansas v. Carr, and Kansas v. Gleason.

A Kansas jury sentenced Sidney Gleason to death for killing a co-conspirator and her boyfriend to cover up the robbery of an elderly man. In a joint proceeding, a Kansas jury also sentenced brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death for a crime spree that culminated in the brutal rape, robbery, kidnapping, and execution-style shooting of five young men and women. The Supreme Court of Kansas vacated the death sentences in each case, holding that the sentencing instructions violated the Eighth Amendment by failing “to affirmatively inform the jury that mitigating circumstances need only be proved to the satisfaction of the individual juror in that juror’s sentencing decision and not beyond a reasonable doubt.” It also held that the Carrs’ Eighth Amendment right “to an individualized capital sentencing determination” was violated by the trial court’s failure to sever their sentencing proceedings. 

The two questions before the U.S. Supreme Court were: (1) whether the Constitution required the sentencing courts to instruct the juries that mitigating circumstances “need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt”; and (2) whether the Constitution required severance of the Carrs’ joint sentencing proceedings. 

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court and remanded the cases. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that (1) the Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct a jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and (2) the Constitution did not require severance of joint sentencing proceedings because the contention that the admission of mitigating evidence by one defendant could have "so infected" the jury's consideration of the other defendant's sentence as to amount to a denial of due process does not stand in light of all the evidence presented at the guilty and penalty phases relevant to the jury's sentencing determination. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Kent S. Scheidegger, who is Legal Director & General Counsel at Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Hurst v. Florida - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast featuring Jack Park
John J. Park, Jr. February 11, 2016

On January 12, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Hurst v. Florida. The question before the Court was whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme--which Hurst contends does not require unanimity in the jury death recommendation or in the finding of underlying aggravating factors--violates the Sixth and/or Eighth Amendments in light of the Court’s 2002 decision Ring v. Arizona, which requires that the aggravating factors necessary for imposition of a death sentence be found by a jury.  The Florida Supreme Court upheld Hurst’s death sentence.

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court and remanded the case, holding that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme did violate the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion for the Court was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Jack Park, who is Of Counsel with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.
 

Hurst v. Florida - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 11-7-15 featuring Jack Park
John J. Park, Jr. November 07, 2015

On October 13, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Hurst v. Florida.  Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of murdering his co-worker and sentenced to death after a jury recommended that penalty by a vote of 7-5.  The question before the Court here is whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme--which Hurst contends does not require unanimity in the jury death recommendation or in the finding of underlying aggravating factors--violates the Sixth or Eighth Amendments in light of the Court’s 2002 decision Ring v. Arizona, which holds that the aggravating factors necessary for imposition of a death sentence be found by a jury. 

To discuss the case, we have Jack Park, who is Of Counsel with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.

Capital Punishment Once Again Before the Supreme Court: Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
William J. Haun October 08, 2015

Somewhat overlooked at the end of the United States Supreme Court’s October 2014 term was a contentious 5-4 decision on the application of the death penalty in Glossip v. Gross. On Wednesday, October 7, the second day of oral arguments for the term, the Supreme Court wasted no time in turning its attention back towards the death penalty in Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr. The cases ask the Court to decide whether the Eighth Amendment requires that capital juries be “affirmatively instructed” that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Will the October 2015 term be remembered, as some commentators are predicting, for its remarkable Eighth Amendment focus?

Featuring:

  • William J. Haun, Associate, Hunton & Williams LLP

Execution Methods and Deciding Implementation of the Death Penalty - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
John Bessler, Kent S. Scheidegger July 15, 2015

During oral argument in Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel Alito pointed to what he called "a guerrilla war against the death penalty, which consists of efforts to make it impossible for the states to obtain drugs that could be used to carry out capital punishment with little, if any, pain[.]"  The goal of these efforts, apparently, is to facilitate constitutional challenges to the death penalty by making its implementation more painful.

This teleforum analyzed whether the efforts by death penalty opponents to pressure drug manufacturers to stop supplying drugs for use in execution--resulting in states resorting to execution methods that are more painful--are circumventing the democratic process in debating the death penalty. Specifically, our experts debated the methods used by those in opposition to the death penalty to shut down access to less painful execution methods, the propriety of complicating the death penalty's implementation, the relationship between that complication and constitutional challenges to the death penalty, and whether this amounts to treating the democratic process like a one-way ratchet: only permitting the people to choose more painful means of implementing executions so as to facilitate legal challenges to the death penalty.

  • Mr. Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director & General Counsel, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
  • Prof. John Bessler, Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law