Tuesday, July 16, 2013

UPDATE Arias in Court again

UPDATE: From Washington Post - Another hearing August 26 to hear motions, possible September date to empanel new jury.


So, according to USA Today, Jodi Arias and her lawyers are back in court today.  See article here.

The argument today is based on the criteria that the jury found that makes her eligible for the death penalty - that the killing was "especially cruel." Hmmm, with all the trial coverage of this, and the discussions regarding the photos, I don't think we need to review those; you can find them elsewhere yourself, I am sure.  

Based on what we have seen, I think that most people would agree the way in which Travis Alexander died was an "especially cruel" manner.  The argument this time around is that a jury doesn't have the "legal expertise or knowledge" to be able to differentiate a killing that wouldn't be considered "especially cruel" and one that is so.  I don't believe that this argument is realistic.  The term "especially cruel" is so vague, even judges at times have a difficult time deciding whether or not a case fits this description or not.  At least with a jury, there can be a discussion and not just a limited perspective of one person.  

The Supreme Court in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002) applied the earlier ruling from Aprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), which applied the right to a jury trial from the Sixth Amendment, via the application to the states in the Fourteenth Amendment, in that the jury had to determine if there were aggravating circumstances in a crime for the judge to be able to include this in the sentencing phase.  Ring expanded this to include, specifically, crimes that could lead to capital punishment.

In the Arias case, the attorney's are now going in front of the judge asking the judge to throw out that part of the verdict that makes her eligible for the death penalty.  The Supreme Court through Justice Scalia said that " the aggravating-factor determination ... logically belong ... in the guilt phase."  They did also indicate that this could still be determined during the penalty phase of a trial, if the state so chooses, but that the better way is to include it in the guilt phase of the trial.  This indicates the Supreme Court's belief that a jury is able to determine whether or not an aggravating factor is sufficient to warrant capital punishment, and doesn't require legal expertise.

Since the jury in this case has spoken and included the finding of "especially cruel," Ms. Arias is now eligible to be sentenced to death.  And under Ring this must be a unanimous determination by the jury that she indeed deserves the death penalty.  But, now we have a situation where the jury that found her guilty was unable to come to a clear conclusion on the penalty to be imposed.  So we are looking at the possibility of a second jury now having to be brought up to speed on a trial, where the state has already spent, according to the article linked about from USA Today, over $1.7 million on her court-appointed lawyers alone and we don't even know what the state has spent on this case.  

If the judge has the possibility of severing the "especially cruel" portion of this verdict from the jury, then they should do so to expedite this trial through the penalty phase and end this costly and protracted case.  

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