The Supreme Court today affirms the death penalty in People v. Steskal for the 1999 murder of an Orange County deputy sheriff.  A death sentence was imposed on retrial after a first jury deadlocked at 11-1 in favor of life without parole.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger rejects the defendant’s argument — supported by an amicus curiae brief by Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness — that, as paraphrased by the court, “given [the defendant’s] delusional disorder, a death sentence is constitutionally disproportionate to his personal culpability.”  The court sticks with its prior precedent stating that, although U.S. Supreme Court case law “ ‘had relied on the emergence of a national consensus against the imposition of the death penalty in cases of intellectual disability and in cases involving juvenile offenders, there exists no similar evidence that a national consensus has formed against the imposition of the death penalty against the class of persons with mental illness.’ ”  (Footnote omitted.)

The opinion also finds not meritorious various other appellate contentions, including that the superior court erred in excluding an expert’s hearsay testimony under People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665 (see here) and in not giving certain jury instructions, and that there was prosecutorial misconduct.

As it has in recent death penalty opinions (e.g., here), the court summarily dismisses a challenge to the rule that juries are not required to make unanimous findings beyond a reasonable doubt on aggravating factors, despite the court’s signaling in the pending McDaniel appeal that it will reconsider the rule.  (See also herehere, and here.)  The court today told the Attorney General to “anticipate that the court may schedule [McDaniel] for argument in June.”