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June 26, 2004

New York's death penalty ruled unconstitutional

Though overshadowed by the Blakely blockbuster, an important death penalty ruling Thursday by New York's highest court should not be overlooked. The New York Court of Appeals found New York's death penalty statute unconstitutional under the New York State Constitution because of its jury deadlock instruction. That instruction provides at the penalty phase that jurors must to decide unanimously whether defendant should be sentenced to death or to life without parole, but also that if they failed to agree, the court would sentence defendant to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after serving a minimum of 20 to 25 years. In a decision in People v. LaValle which can be accessed here, the court concluded that this instruction "gives rise to an unconstitutionally palpable risk that one or more jurors who cannot bear the thought that a defendant may walk the streets again after serving 20 to 25 years will join jurors favoring death in order to avoid the deadlock sentence:"

Whether a juror chooses death or life without the possibility of parole, the choice is driven by the fear that a deadlock may result in the eventual release of the defendant. Under New York's deadlock instruction the choice is not, as it should be, the result of a reasoned understanding that it was the appropriate one. We hold today that the deadlock instruction ... is unconstitutional under the State Constitution because of the unacceptable risk that it may result in a coercive, and thus arbitrary and unreliable, sentence.

Though a long decision, all the opinions in LaValle are compelling, especially as the majority and dissent debate the appropriate remedy in the wake of this ruling. The majority ultimately concludes that the "defect in the existing statute can only be cured by a new deadlock instruction from the Legislature;" the dissent complains that the majority's decision "elevates judicial distaste for the death penalty over the legislative will." And in a lovely concurrence, Justice Rosenblatt states: "Just as judges should not shrink from carrying out the legislative will, so too should they not shrink from declaring statutes unconstitutional in proper cases, however distasteful that may be."

June 26, 2004 at 09:06 AM | Permalink

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» Death to take a holiday in NY? from ambivalent imbroglio
Death to take a holiday in NY?: The New York Times is reporting here that it is now seeming unlikely that New York will re-enact the death penalty after the state's highest court declared the current statute unconstitutional last June in People v. LaVa... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 11, 2005 6:40:24 AM

» Death to take a holiday in NY? from ambivalent bits
Death to take a holiday in NY?: The New York Times is reporting here that it is now seeming unlikely that New York will re-enact the death penalty after the state's highest court declared the current statute unconstitutional last June in People v. LaVa... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 11, 2005 6:43:21 AM

» Death to take a holiday in NY? from ambivalent bits
Death to take a holiday in NY?: The New York Times is reporting here that it is now seeming unlikely that New York will re-enact the death penalty after the state's highest court declared the current statute unconstitutional last June in People v. LaVa... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 11, 2005 6:45:02 AM

Comments

Professor Douglas Berman

I am doing some research on death penalty and I happen to come across your website and its pretty good.

Thanks for putting one of the reasons why death penalty should be abolished.

Rgds.

Posted by: Dominic Chan | Sep 20, 2005 3:52:08 AM

Do you have any resons for the death penalty? Do you have any new penaltys or other ones that are much more wise than death?

Posted by: Questions | Feb 3, 2008 6:52:43 PM

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Posted by: laptop battery | Oct 14, 2008 5:14:24 AM

The New York Court of Appeals found New York's death
penalty statute unconstitutional under the New York State
Constitution because of its jury deadlock instruction.

Posted by: Medic Blog | Mar 19, 2011 3:50:55 AM

Do you have any new penaltys or other ones that are much more wise than death?

Posted by: Robe de Cocktail Pas Cher | Dec 12, 2012 1:10:38 AM

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