It's an odd, morbid term, "death-qualified." It's the shorthand we use for the Supreme Court's rulings, in Witherspoon v. Illinois and Wainwright v. Witt, that a juror can be struck for cause if his religious views on the death penalty "prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath." (The quote is from Wainwright.)
Fair and balanced?
The words of this standard sound like it should work both ways, allowing strikes of death penalty proponents and opponents alike. But it often doesn't work that way in practice. Instead, as in the Louisiana trial of LaDerrick Campbell, you often see this guy staying:
I think of the death penalty as necessary to the degree that the murder was unnecessary. . . . [I could vote for a life sentence based on mitigating circumstances,] [b]ut it’s going to be very difficult. Again, I once said during the mitigating, if you use mitigating circumstances with me, you’re going to have to prove them beyond a really reasonable doubt. I mean, I hear a doctor come in and say the person is mentally ill, you’re going to have to make me understand that really good for me to accept that. . . . [Asked whether he could accept a mitigating circumstance even if it were not proved beyond a reasonable doubt,] I’d just have to see the situation, I don’t know that I could do that.
while this lady goes home:
... it's against my religion. I don't believe you should take a person's life. I think they should be put up in a place where they can be rehabilitated or life in prison. [I would] have to really pray about it and see the evidence before I could vote to take a man's life or a woman's life.
Campbell's lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to review this issue, and Scotusblog calls it a "petition to watch." Here's their rundown:
Docket: 08-399 (capital case)
Title: Campbell v. Louisiana
Issue: Whether, under Wainwright v. Witt (1985), the trial judge improperly removed a juror despite a willingness to consider the death penalty in some circumstances while permitting a juror who reportedly had difficultly not imposing the death penalty.
- Opinion below (Supreme Court of Louisiana)
- Petition for certiorari
- Brief in opposition
- Petitioner’s reply (awaiting from counsel)
- Brief amicus curiae of academics (in support of petitioner)
Related post here:
(Photo by upturnedface at http://flickr.com/photos/upturnedface/2928309180/; license details there.)