Correcting Deadly Confusion: Responding to Jury Inquiries in Capital Cases
30 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2011
Date Written: 1999
In Weeks v. Angelone, 528 U.S. 225 (2000), the members of the capital sentencing jury asked for clarification of the jury instructions on the essential question of whether they were required to sentence Weeks to death upon the finding of certain aggravating factors. The judge merely informed the jurors to reread the instruction. The jurors returned with a death penalty sentence. The Supreme Court held that these jurors likely understood the instructions and at most Weeks had shown a slight possibility that the jurors believed they were precluded from considering mitigating evidence. However, the results of a mock jury study conducted by the authors strongly suggest that the Supreme Court's conclusion was incorrect. In fact, many jurors receiving the subject instruction do believe that they cannot weigh mitigating evidence. The Supreme Court's finding that the jurors in Weeks' trial understood the sentencing instruction was based on mere instinct and was likely incorrect.
Keywords: Weeks, Angelone, capital, sentencing, jury, death, aggravating, fators, penality, mitigating, evidence, and instruction
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