March 20, 2017

Supreme Court mostly unanimous in affirming death sentence

The Supreme Court today affirms the death sentence in People v. Brooks.  The court’s 143-page opinion is by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, for herself and five other justices.  Justice Goodwin Liu writes a separate concurring and dissenting opinion.  Among many other holdings, the court finds instructional errors and also two instances of jury misconduct — one occurred during the penalty phase, when the jurors asked “to hear from” the defendant — but nothing that requires reversal.

Like the majority, Justice Liu would not reverse the death sentence, but he disagrees with the court that there was sufficient evidence to support one of two special circumstance findings — the one for kidnapping-murder.  Justice Liu recognizes that although winning a substantial evidence argument on appeal is difficult, he says that “[t]he sufficiency standard is deferential but not toothless.”

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