March 10, 2016
On Jan. 20, 2016, the Supreme Court overturned a state death penalty case for three Kansas men. In an 8 to 1 vote, Justice Antonin Scalia detailed the significant crimes committed by two brothers, Reginald D. and Jonathan D. Carr. A separate case against Sidney Gleason for a double murder was included in the ruling. Two of the justices, who previously seemed to lean toward a possible ban of death penalty cases, agreed with the majority and made no comment.
The court determined that the case did not affect sentencing procedures in death penalty cases. Even so, the case goes back to the Kansas Supreme Court, and they might again vacate the sentences.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the only dissenting judge, did not believe that the Supreme Court needed to hear the case. She supported her views by stating that the pairs’ actions were especially heinous. The cases, later known as the Wichita Massacre, involved the brutal rape and shooting of four victims and the rape and killing of a fifth woman whom they subsequently plowed down with a pickup truck in 2000. She survived the ordeal.
Together, the trio contended that the jury instructions were not clear regarding the standard of proof for the mitigating factors in the case. The court rejected their argument, ruling that specific directions were not needed because the jury had the freedom to use their own discretion regarding which factors they used.
The brothers also argued that they should have been tried separately instead of together and felt that the joint trial hurt their case. The court overruled that argument as well, stating that joint trials often expedite a case. Judge Scalia further noted that the gravity and atrocity of their crimes precluded any possible damage that might have been done by a joint sentencing.
Improper jury instructions can result in prejudice against a defendant, leading to an unjust verdict. If you have questions about legal technicalities regarding your case, call our law firm for further assistance.