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Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Ohio Jury Instructions (Round II)

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The Supreme Court today in Bobby v. Mitts reversed the Sixth Circuit and rejected an Ohio death row inmate's challenge to "virtually the same" penalty phase jury instructions considered and upheld last term in Smith v. Spisak, 558 U.S. __ (2010).
               
Referring to the instructions as "acquittal-first," the Court of Appeals stated that they impermissibly required the jury to first decide whether to "acquit" Mitts of the death penalty before considering "mercy and some form of life imprisonment." . . . The Court of Appeals concluded that [these instructions] unconstitutionally "deprived the jury of a meaningful opportunity to consider" a life sentence [in violation of Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625 (1980)].

The Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, disagreed.

The instructions here are surely not invalid under our decision in Beck.  The concern addressed in Beck was "the risk of an unwarranted conviction" created when the jury is forced to choose between finding the defendant guilty of a capital offense and declaring him innocent of any wrongdoing.
The question here, however, concerns the penalty phase, not the guilt phase, and we have already concluded that the logic of Beck is not directly applicable to penalty phase proceedings.
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We all but decided the question presented here in Spisak itself. . . The same conclusion applies here.

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