New York appeals court upholds unconstitutionality of state death penalty

New York appeals court upholds unconstitutionality of state death penalty

[JURIST] The highest court in New York state Tuesday narrowly ruled [opinion, PDF] against overturning state precedent holding the state's death penalty law unconstitutional. Urged to create an exception for a man who murdered five people at a Queens Wendy's in May 2000, the New York Court of Appeals upheld by 4-3 its 2004 decision in People v. LaValle [PDF text] that had rejected New York's death penalty "jury deadlock" instructions as unconstitutional, holding that a trial court's instruction that the jury must unanimously vote in favor of the death penalty or risk allowing a sentence where the defendant could eventually be released on parole contained a coercive element. The court wrote that:

the death penalty sentencing statute is unconstitutional on its face and it is not within our power to save the statute. LaValle is thus entitled to full precedential value. The Legislature, mindful of our State's due process protections, may reenact a sentencing statute that is free of coercion and cognizant of a jury's need to know the consequences of its choice.

The defendant was originally sentenced to death and will now serve a term of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

Last month, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in the case of Baze v. Rees, in which the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Newsday has more.