Scott Peterson was convicted of the murder of Laci Peterson and his trial is now in the sentencing phase. Whether or not he will live or be executed is being decided by a jury based on emotions.
This article asked the question should the decision of life and death be left up to emotion? Should the death of an individual be decided by using one’s heart as a guide or should there be standards for sentencing a convicted man to death?
Two days into the penalty phase of the Scott Peterson trial, it’s clear that Kleenex must be flying off the Safeway shelves in Redwood City, Calif. Jurors sobbed openly as Laci Peterson’s mother testified on the first day of the guilt phase. Peterson himself cried when his dad testified yesterday. And jurors who made it through hours of the gruesome testimony offered at the guilt phase have morphed into puddles when faced with photos of the dead victim and emotional narratives about what a great mother she would have been.
Peterson was convicted last month of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and his unborn son, Conner. He now faces the prospect of either life in prison or capital punishment. And on Tuesday, as the penalty phase of the trial began, it became clear that “penalty phase” is simply a term of art for “blatant emotional manipulation,” as both sides did everything in their power to persuade the jury to vote only with their hearts.
We have become so accustomed to bifurcated capital trials in America—trials at which the guilt phase is separate from the sentencing phase—that we forget how truly bizarre this system can be. We end up with a “head” trial—a dispassionate hearing on what happened, in which evidence is sometimes cruelly limited to the cold, hard facts. That proceeding is closely followed by a “heart” trial—a mini hearing full of hearsay and legally irrelevant detail: The defendant was abused as a baby; the victim was a wonderful wife and mother. Witnesses are, in short, encouraged to take the stand and emote—describing how desperately they miss the victim, or how tragic the life circumstances of the defendant really were. And, instead of deciding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, jurors are asked to engage in a subjective balancing test—weighing a list of aggravating factors (was the murder particularly heinous; was it done for financial gain; does the defendant have a violent criminal history?) against a list of mitigating ones (was the defendant abused as a child; was he on drugs or otherwise impaired in his judgment?).
I find it ridiculous that the life of a man, albeit a convicted murderer can …
come down to whether the jury believes Laci’s family is ultimately more tragic than his.
I am not a supporter of the death penalty myself but if capital punishment remains a possible sentence for convicted felons there should be an establish criteria for its sentencing.
The notion that there is a place in the chilly, linear life of the law for this sort of sentimentality—the unrestrained id of emotion untethered from logic—is beyond strange. The idea that in order to decide whether a criminal deserves the “ultimate punishment” a jury must abandon reason and clarity for emotion and intuition inverts everything the law otherwise represents. When else do we contend, as a society, that people exercise fantastic judgment at that moment when they are sobbing and gasping for breath?
The author also goes on to question the constitutionality of this split system of trial and sentencing.
the penalty phase no longer represents a contest between the defendant and the state but, rather, becomes a contest between the defendant and the victims’ survivors, is a result of years of advocacy by the victims-rights movement. Whereas victim-impact statements were once prohibited at trial, for example, the Supreme Court now holds them to be constitutionally permissible. Whereas the victim’s family used to be almost incidental at a capital trial, they now play a central role, most notably at the penalty phase.
I would love to hear some opinions of this system and since I have read how most feel about abortion I’ll be curious to see how you feel about killing adults. Our president has no problem with it that’s for sure.