Jan 20, 2016 The brutality of murder does not justify shortchanging critical protection at capital defendants’ sentencing trials
The brutality of murder does not justify shortchanging critical Constitutional protection at capital defendants’ sentencing trials. The death penalty is the most severe criminal sentence in the United States as a result of a capital punishment system that should long ago have been relegated to the brutal historical dustbin, and numerous states have been doing just that. However, the death penalty remains in place for federal prosecutions, in the South, just about all of the West, and beyond.
When Justices Brennan and Marshall were on the Supreme Court, they routinely would reaffirm their conviction that the death penalty is unconstitutional, in every death penalty case before the Court. Those days are gone at the Supreme Court, replaced today by even all but one of the usually most liberal justices reversing three Kansas state supreme court reversals of death sentences achieved through not instructing jurors that mitigating factors do not need to be found beyond a reasonable doubt, and in two cases with not bifurcating a capital sentencing trial arising from multiple rapes and murders so brutal and inhumane as to make even the most ardent death penalty opponent remember and acknowledge the depths of depravity into which some humans will descend. Kansas v. Carr, ___ U.S. ___ (Jan. 20, 2016).
Only one justice, that being Justice Sotomayor, dissented in Carr, and her dissent primarily emphasized that the Supreme Court should not have intervened here in the first place, since the proceedings below involved state courts not necessarily applying only federal Constitutional law.
The United States Supreme Court has four justices who solidly will support a robust capital punishment system, four justices who will provide defendants more consideration than that, and one justice (Kennedy) as a swing voter. If the next president is a Republican, that president can be expected to nominate Supreme Court and other federal judges who are friendly to the death penalty. If the next president is a Democrat, that situation likely will be at least somewhat better than what a Republican president will do with court nominations.