Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I stand corrected

I wanted to print an e-mail I received from Assistant Harris County District Attorney Bill Hawkins regarding my post on Judge Kevin Fine's decision to rescind his order holding that the process by which the death penalty is imposed was unconstitutional.

Mr. Hawkins pointed out an error that I made in the post. I incorrectly stated that it only took 10 votes on the two special questions to impose the death penalty. If a jury finds a defendant guilty in a capital case the jury is asked two questions: (1) whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; and (2) are there mitigating circumstances that warrant life in prison rather than death?

If the jury answers the first question "yes" and the second question "n0" then the death penalty is imposed. Any other combination of answers yields life in prison. To answer the first question "yes" the jury must be unanimous; to answer the second question "no" the jury must also be unanimous. However, a jury can answer the first question "no" and the second question "yes" with the agreement of 10 or more jurors.

Here's Mr. Hawkins' e-mail:
I apologize for using e-mail, but I am not real sure of the comment process on your blog. You seem to stay on top of things so I thought you may want to modify your last post. You didn’t exactly describe the special answer process on capital murder correctly. It only takes 10 answers for the questions to be answered in such a way that death is not imposed. If the either of the first two issues receive 10 No answers, or the last issue receives 10 Yes answers, then the sentence is life. In order to answer the special issues in such a way that death is imposed, the answers must be unanimous. Thus, the first two issues must each receive 12 Yes answers, and the third issue (the mitigation issue) must receive 12 No answers to result in a sentence of death.
Thanks for the clarification, Bill.

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