Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


Amy D. Ronner


This Article examines the disturbing ramifications of sentencing statutes that allow a judge to override a jury's advisory life verdict and impose the death sentence, analyzes the importance of the jury in a criminal proceeding, its special function in the capital sentencing phase, and the ensuing devastation from a judge trumping a jury life verdict with death.

This Article then advances the position that jury override statutes do not spawn mere death bias, but actually an augmented death bias, and stresses the special significance of a jury life verdict issued in spite of that augmented death bias. This Article also explores the significance of the Tedder safeguard, which requires a trial judge to accord great weight to a sentencing jury's recommendation, and then analyzes the disturbing impact of an override scheme that lacks that significant protection.

In the recently decided Harris v. Alabama, the Supreme Court approved a capital sentencing statute that allows trial judges to "merely consider" the jury's recommendation before rejecting it. The author suggests that in Harris the Court annihilated the only safeguard, the Tedder standard, in an arena of augmented death bias, and in so doing, has excised the metaphoric tympanic membrane of death sentencing. According to this view, the Court is encouraging improper executions and ultimately disparaging the value of life.