Support American RadioWorks with your Amazon.com purchases
Search Amazon.com:
Keywords:
  • News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment
American RadioWorksDocumentariesAmericaDeadly Decisions
Juror Reponsibility  |   Juror Confusion  |   Juror Bias


Revised Sentencing Instructions

Members of the jury:

The evidence, information, and arguments as to this phase of the sentencing hearing have now been completed and I will now instruct you as to the law. You may follow along in your booklet as I instruct you. The law applicable to this phase of the case is stated in these instructions and it is your duty to follow all of them.

Understanding Your Job in This Part of the Hearing

Now that you have found that the defendant is eligible for the death penalty, you must decide whether death or imprisonment is the appropriate sentence for the defendant. Your decision will depend on whether the prosecution persuades each and every one of you that the death penalty should be imposed. If the prosecution does not persuade each and every juror that the death penalty should be imposed, then the jury must return a verdict of imprisonment.

Let me begin by giving you a brief roadmap of the things you will need to consider in making your decision about whether to vote in favor of the death penalty or a term of imprisonment. There are three distinct tasks you must address.

First, you must individually decide upon what aggravating factors exist in this case. Second, you must individually decide upon what mitigating factors, if any, exist in this case. Third, after you have decided for yourself whether such aggravating and mitigating factors exist in the case and what they are, you must weigh the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors, in order to see whether one group of factors outweighs the other in your own opinion. The answer to this last question will determine whether you cast your individual vote for a sentence of death or for a sentence of imprisonment.

Now, let me instruct you about the meaning of some of these legal terms.

Aggravating Factors

In a criminal case such as this one, an "aggravating factor" is any fact or condition or circumstance that, in your judgment, makes a sentence of death more appropriate for this defendant than a sentence of imprisonment.

According to Illinois law, one example of an aggravating factor in a case like this is:

The murdered person was intentionally killed by the defendant while the defendant was committing another felony.

During the first part of the sentencing hearing, you, the jury, decided that the State had proved that this "statutory aggravating factor" exists. Now, in the second part of this sentencing hearing, each juror should decide for himself or herself whether additional aggravating factors exist. Although the jury as a whole can of course discuss these matters, the decision about what counts as an aggravating factor at this stage is one which the law leaves to the individual juror.

To decide whether one or more aggravating factors exist, each juror must examine all the evidence presented during this trial and sentencing hearing, and decide whether there is any reason, supported by the evidence, that would make a sentence of death for the defendant more appropriate than a sentence of imprisonment. A juror can decide that something is an additional aggravating factor even if it was not mentioned specifically by the judge, and even if it is not similar to any examples given by the judge.

Mitigating Factors

Now I will explain to you what the legal term "mitigating factors" means in a case like this. Mitigating factors are the opposite of aggravating factors. That is, in a criminal case such as this one, a "mitigating factor" is any evidence regarding the defendant's character or the circumstance of the crime that, in your judgment, makes a sentence of imprisonment more appropriate for this defendant than a sentence of death.

To decide whether one or more mitigating factors exist, each juror must examine the evidence from the trial and the sentencing hearing, and decide whether there are one or more reasons, supported by the evidence, that would make a sentence of imprisonment for the defendant more appropriate than a sentence of death. In order to decide that something is a mitigating factor which would lessen the penalty, you do NOT have to believe that it excuses or justifies the crime itself.

I will now give you some examples which, according to Illinois law, could be mitigating factors in a case like this. Remember that these examples are only examples. The law says that you can decide that something is a mitigating factor even if I do not mention it specifically, and even if it is not similar to any examples I have given you. Here are three examples that could be mitigating factors in a case like this:

  1. The murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance [even if that disturbance could not be counted as a defense against the charge or murder itself].
  2. The defendant has no prior history of significant criminal activity.
  3. The defendant may be rehabilitated or restored to useful citizenship.

Illinois law permits each juror to decide for himself or herself whether one or more mitigating factors exist. Although the jury as a whole can of course discuss these matters, the decision about what counts as a mitigating factor in this case is one which the law leaves to the individual juror. Because of this, the jury does NOT need to reach a unanimous decision about what counts as a mitigating factor.

Weighing Aggravating And Mitigating Factors

Once you have reached your individual decisions about aggravating and mitigating factors, your next task is to weigh the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors, in order to see which group outweighs the other in your individual judgment. The answer to this question will determine whether you cast your individual vote for a sentence of death or for a sentence of imprisonment.

Illinois law states that in order for the jury as a whole to reach a verdict of imprisonment in a case like this, at least one member of the jury must decide that there exists at least one mitigating factor (or a set of mitigating factors taken together) which is "sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty." The word "preclude" means to "rule out or prevent from happening." The death penalty is "precluded," or ruled out, if at least one juror is not persuaded, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating evidence, that the death penalty is the appropriate sentence.

Illinois law also states that in order for the jury as a whole to return a verdict of death in a case like this, every single member of the jury must agree that there are NO mitigating factors (taken individually or together) which are "sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty."

In order for each of you to decide whether there exists one or more mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the death penalty, you must first understand how to go about weighing, or comparing the weights of, the two sets of factors: aggravating and mitigating. I will now explain in more detail what is meant by "weighing" the aggravating factors against mitigating factors in order to reach a verdict.

In order to weigh the aggravating factors, taken as a whole, against the mitigating factors, taken as a whole, you should NOT merely add up the number of aggravating factors and mitigating factors in order to see which number is bigger. Weighing the factors is not such a mechanical task, and there is no simple formula that you can apply to reach your decision.

Instead, each juror must first decide how much weight or importance or significance to give to each relevant circumstance supported by the evidence, whether it falls in the aggravating category or the mitigating category. These are decisions that only you can make, and that the law says you may make individually on the basis of your own best judgment. Then, in light of your own decisions, you must compare all the aggravating factors and their relative importance, with all the mitigating factors and their relative importance in order to decide which group of factors outweighs the other group. There are three possible ways you could decide this question, and each of them determines how you must vote, as an individual juror, on the appropriate penalty for this case. These three possibilities are:

  1. You might decide that the aggravating factors, taken as a whole, outweigh the mitigating factors, taken as a whole. This means that, in your opinion, there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. In this case, your vote as an individual juror must be for a penalty of death.
  2. You might decide that the mitigating factors, taken as a whole, outweigh the aggravating factors, taken as a whole. This means that, in your opinion, there are one or more mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. In this case, your vote as an individual juror must be for a penalty of imprisonment.
  3. You might decide that the weight of the aggravating factors, taken as a whole, is equal to the weight of the mitigating factors taken as a whole -- or you may not be able to decide which set of factors outweighs the other. In both these cases, this means that you have NOT reached a decision that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. As a result, your vote as an individual juror must be for a penalty of imprisonment.

After the jury has deliberated, and after the individual jurors have reached their decisions in regard to the weighing of the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors, the jury as a whole must decide on the verdict that it will report to the judge, and sign the appropriate verdict form. The law requires that this verdict be decided in one of the following two ways:

If at least one juror votes individually for the penalty of imprisonment, then the jury MUST return a verdict of imprisonment. The jury is NOT required to reach a unanimous decision in order to return a verdict of imprisonment.

If every juror votes for the penalty of death, then the jury MUST return a verdict of death. The jury IS required to reach a unanimous decision in order to return a verdict of death.

Choosing A Verdict Form

You will receive two verdict forms, labeled A and B. Verdict Form A is the form that every member of the jury must sign if the jury returns a verdict of death. Verdict Form B is the form that every member of the jury must sign if the jury returns a verdict of imprisonment.

Verdict Form A reads as follows:

A. Verdict Form Approving the Death Sentence

"We, the jury, unanimously find that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of a death sentence."

Then, the court shall sentence the defendant John Woods to death.

Verdict Form B reads as follows:

B. Verdict Form Rejecting the Death Sentence

"We, the jury, do not unanimously find that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude a death sentence."

Then, the court shall not sentence the defendant John Woods to death.