Death penalty cases impose singular burden.. of proof

originally published by: Delaware Online
published: 14th September 2010

Fairness, justice, equal protection – there is no context for which these ideals are more important than death penalty trials.

Our Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. A death sentence that is arbitrarily imposed or handed down without proper consideration of mitigating evidence (evidence about the crime or the defendant that suggests the death penalty is inappropriate) is cruel and unusual and unconstitutional.

Can our criminal justice system ensure that a death sentence meets these constitutional standards? The United States Supreme Court has required two key safeguards: a fair and impartial jury to decide if a defendant is eligible for the death penalty and a jury that is clearly instructed about the concept of mitigation.

Delaware, unlike most death penalty states, leaves the ultimate decision regarding a death sentence to the trial judge. The jury makes a non-binding recommendation to the judge.

Nevertheless, it is essential that capital jurors understand the court’s instructions about how jurors are to fulfill their roles within constitutional parameters.

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