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Monday, November 10, 2008

Supreme Court rejects 'victim impact' evidence cases
Jake Oresick at 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] denied certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in the capital cases of Kelly v. California (07-11073) [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and Zamudio v. California (07-11425) [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. Petitioners in the cases were seeking new guidelines for "victim impact" evidence presented to juries during sentencing. Petitioners Douglas Kelly and Samuel Zamudio sought to remand the sentencing phases of their murder convictions on the grounds that emotional videos created by their victims’ families and shown to jurors were overly prejudicial. Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens [official profiles, PDF] favored review, but four votes are required to grant certiorari. In a separate dissent [dissent, PDF], Stevens criticized impact evidence for its failure to speak to the defendant’s character, writing:

Although the video shown to each jury was emotionally evocative, it was not probative of the culpability or character of the offender or the circumstances of the offense. Nor was the evidence particularly probative of the impact of the crimes on the victims’ family members: The pictures and video footage shown to the juries portrayed events that occurred long before the respective crimes were committed and that bore no direct relation to the effect of the crimes on the victims’ family members.
Breyer also issued a dissent. AP has more.

In the 1991 case of Payne v. Tennessee [opinion, text], the Supreme Court overruled two prior decisions in holding that victim impact evidence was admissible. The National Center for Victims of Crime [advocacy website] contends that victim impact evidence humanizes the consequences of criminal acts.

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