Resistbot Petition: Stop Judges From Sentencing Death Without a Jury! (Mo. only)

An open letter to State Governors & Legislatures (Mo. only)

Stop Judges From Sentencing Death Without a Jury!

19 so far! Help us get to 25 signers!

I urge you to support HB 2468 (Davidson), HB 2427 (Davis), HB 1949 (Mackey), and SB 1169 (Coleman), which repeal provisions that allow judges to assess the death penalty without the unanimous decision of a jury. This judicial loophole means that when there is a hung jury in the punishment phase of a capital case, meaning the jury cannot unanimously agree to one sentence or the other however, the courts have said the judge can then make the decision and sentence the defendant to life without the possibility of parole or to death. The current statute states “the jury shall be instructed before the case is submitted that if it is unable to decide or agree upon them punishment the court shall assess and declare the punishment at life imprisonment without eligibility for probation, parole, or release except by act of the governor or death.” The intent of the original language was to specify that the defendant cannot be released from their imprisonment except by a Governor’s pardon or when they die, and that the default sentence when the jury is hung is life without parole. A court interpretation of the plain language of the statute granted the ability to sentence the defendant to death in the case of a hung jury to a single judge by adding a comma into the sentence that doesn’t exist. This interpretation undermines the power of the jury, a critical component of our legal system. To close this loophole, these bills would remove the “or death” language in the statute, requiring the judge to sentence the defendant to life without the possibility of parole in the case of a hung jury. This simple change would place the power of sentencing back into the hands of the jury of our peers instead of one person. According to data from Missourians Against the Death Penalty (MADP), since 2002, five people have been sentenced to death by an individual judge's decision after a jury couldn't make a unanimous decision during the weighing procedure: Deandre Buchanan (2002), Amber McLaughlin (2006), Lance Shockley (2009), Marvin Rice (2017), and Craig Wood (2018). The current court-assigned death penalty loophole presents significant ethical and judicial concerns. Primarily, this practice can unduly influence the jury’s decision-making process, coercing them towards a consensus out of fear that their inability to agree might directly lead to the death penalty. This scenario puts undue pressure on jurors, potentially swaying their judgment towards a guilty verdict or a specific punishment, not on the basis of evidence or moral conviction, but on the apprehension of indirectly causing a death sentence. Such a provision undermines the integrity of the jury system, which is designed to reflect impartial community standards and values in the judicial process. Repealing this provision could restore the jury’s role as an impartial body meant to deliver justice based on evidence and legal principles, free from undue influence regarding sentencing outcomes.

▶ Created on March 26 by Skip

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