Republican senators introduced a bill during the latest budget debate in Congress intended to give federal prosecutors who fail to convince a jury to impose a death sentence the legal equivalent of a do-over.
The proponents of the bill are Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz and John Coryn of Texas.
The bill would require “the impaneling of a new jury if a jury fails to recommend by unanimous vote a sentence for conviction of a crime punishable by death.” Existing federal law requires that a jury verdict of death in a capital trial be unanimous. If the jurors fail to reach a unanimous decision, the defendant is automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
The bill is called Eric’s Law name in honour of Eric Williams, a corrections officer brutally killed by an inmate at the federal prison in Canaan, Penn., in 2013. Williams’ killer at that was already serving a life sentence on state charges, and was tried and convicted of capital murder. When the jury can not agree on a unanimous decision, he was sentenced by the court to life without parole.
Williams’ murderer is serving his sentence in a 7-by-12 foot concrete cell at the federal supermax facility outside Florence, Colorado, where he would most likely die.
Cruz said that the bill will “prevent further miscarriages of justice” and stated also that a life without parole sentence is similar to allowing Williams’ killer to essentially go unpunished for his crime.
Those who are not in favour of the bill say even if enacted the Senate bill will “raise serious Constitutional hurdles.” They also argue that giving prosecutors a second chance to convince the 12 jurors to mete out the death penalty will only make for a broken federal death penalty even more expensive.