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Single-juror veto rule lets another murderer off

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The federal system's deplorable single-juror veto rule for capital sentencing has let another murderer off too easy.  (The crime was noted in yesterday's News Scan.)  Larry Lujan was a drug dealer in San Antonio, Texas.  He required others dealing drugs in his "territory" to pay a "tax."  When 16-year-old Dana Grauke did not, Lujan kidnapped him out of his home and drove him over 500 miles to Anthony, New Mexico (on I-10, just over the state line).  There he sliced Grauke's throat with a meat cleaver, nearly decapitating him.  For more details on the crime, see yesterday's story.

Lujan got off with life yesterday, not because the jury agreed that sentence was appropriate but because the jury could not agree after deliberating "several hours."  Ashley Meeks has this story on the nonverdict in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The story doesn't say what the vote was, but in some cases a single juror has imposed his view of the correct sentence over the opposition of the other 11 through this asinine rule.

There are two correct ways of handling the unanimity issue.  In California, the jury must be unanimous one way or the other.  If they are truly deadlocked, it is a mistrial, just like on the guilt verdict, and the penalty phase is retried.  In Florida, a less-than-unanimous jury can make a recommendation, and the judge makes the final decision.

Congress really needs to fix this.  Pick the California method or the Florida method, but get rid of the single-juror veto.

3 Comments

Perhaps, with the impending changes in control of Washington, a fix can be had.

I prefer the California method. It makes it much harder to complain about the jury's final decision, whichever way it goes. I also question how much longer Florida's method will withstand judicial scrutiny, especially if President Obama gets another Supreme Court choice.

I do not think that unanimity is achievable any longer in our "salad bowl" society. When we "celebrate diversity", we seem to move further and further from a common standard of decency.

There is always a juror with an axe to grind who manages to escape voir dire scrutiny.

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