West Law Report

Death Qualification Decisions

A leading case summery of Harvard Law Review (Issue 121, Nov 2007): Uttecht v. Brown (2007) (11 pages)

Sixth Amendment — Death Qualification Decisions

Endless review of death sentences is exhausting the courts. The legislative response to this problem can be seen in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which sharply limits federal habeas review of state court decisions. The judicial response is apparent in the Supreme Court’s increasing reluctance to reverse sentences for minor errors many years after their imposition.

The Justices’ frustration with the delaying tactics of capital defendants was on display last Term in Uttecht v. Brown, in which the Court reinstated a thirteen-year-old death sentence overturned by the Ninth Circuit. The Court held that the trial judge had not abused his discretion by striking a potential juror who expressed some hesitancy to impose a death sentence under the circumstances of the case and whose removal was not objected to by defense counsel. Brown should remind appellate judges of the high degree of deference afforded to trial court determinations, particularly under circumstances that suggest the trial judge may have been relying on his observation of an individual’s demeanor. But as Congress and the Court move to curb excessive review of death sentences, it is important that lower courts not mistake more lenient standards of review on appeal for less rigorous first-order standards. Brown did not alter the standard that trial judges must apply in deciding whether to exclude a juror for cause, which remains strongly tilted toward retention of all but the most biased veniremen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: