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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 73181 Find in a Library
Title: Jury System in Death Penalty Cases - A Symbolic Gesture
Journal: Law and Contemporary Problems  Volume:43  Issue:4  Dated:(Autumn 1980)  Pages:137-154
Author(s): C Mullin
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 18
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This analysis of court cases shows that a defendant's right to a fair trial is violated in execution cases, which serve as symbolic indicators of the society's feelings about poor and minorities.
Abstract: Out of the thousands of persons who commit homicide each year, only a symbolic few are selected by prosecutors for the death penalty. The determination is based on social variables. Death row inmates are poor, young, male, and often members of a minority group. They generally reside in the rural South and have murdered a person of high status, usually white. Other variables include massive publicity and community outrage concerning and belief in the crime defendant's guilt. In such cases, tremendous public pressure is placed on the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the jury. Furthermore, the jury selection process is unfairly biased against the defendant. The jury pool does not represent a cross-section of the community; elimination of those opposing the death penalty results in a more prosecution-prone jury; and voir dire is limited to the point that potential jurors' prejudices are impossible to detect. Furthermore, responding to the community pressure, judges seldom grant a change of venue, which is advisable in highly publicized cases. Many defense attorneys have moved that the court allow jurors who are opposed to the death penalty to serve in the portion of the trial which determines guilt or innocence. Should a verdict of guilty be returned, these jurors could then be replaced by individuals who did not oppose the death penalty. Other suitable options would be to proceed with a jury comprised of fewer than 12 persons or to select an entirely new panel. As yet, no court has allowed such an option. Furthermore, the ability to have jurors removed for cause constitutes a major tool of the defense in reducing the odds against prejudiced jurors. However, the number of strikes allowed the defendant is insufficient, in view of evidence indicating that 37 percent of jurors presume the defendant guilty in any case. Thus, the execution trial is an emotional event in which societal pressures are so intense that the traditional safeguards insuring a defendant a fair trial are rendered useless. Footnotes containing references are included.
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Critiques; Death row inmates; Jury selection; Pretrial publicity; Right to fair trial; United States of America
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