Friday, December 09, 2005

SCOTUS Reviewing Kansas's Death Penalty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday from Kansas's attorney-general Phill Kline and from public defender Rebecca Woodman in a case that will decide the constitutionality of that state's death penalty law.

The Kansas Supreme Court struck down the statute a year ago, calling it unconstitutional because the law "unfairly tips the scales in favor of the death penalty."

The law says, in effect, that if factors favoring the death penalty, such as the heinous nature of the crime, are equal to factors weighing against the death penalty, juries must sentence a defendant to death.

The state disagrees with the Kansas Supreme Court's opinion. Kline argued Wednesday that Kansas' law gives jurors enough leeway to decide for or against the death penalty.

"The Kansas death penalty statute is one of the most narrow in the nation" and does not unfairly encourage death sentences, he said.

Woodman responded that Kansas' law encourages jurors to impose the death penalty when the weight of aggravating or mitigating factors behind a capital crime is undecided.

Woodman successfully made that point in the 2004 Kansas Supreme Court case in which she represented Michael Lee Marsh II, a Wichita man convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1998. That decision prompted Kline's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Guess there's no erring on the side of life when it comes to capital punishment.

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