The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a blanket prohibition against prosecutors’ urging jurors to “send a message” with their verdicts, the Associated Press rreports. The court granted a new sentencing hearing last week for Jose “Little Bert” DeJesus, a North Philadelphia drug-gang hit man on death row for four murders. The justices warned prosecutors that such rhetorical flourishes will no longer be tolerated.
“Our adversary system permits the prosecutor to prosecute with earnestness and vigor. Nevertheless, the arguments advanced must be confined to the evidence and the legitimate inferences to be drawn therefrom,” Justice Ronald Castille wrote. “Deliberate attempts to destroy the objectivity and impartiality of the finder of fact so as to cause the verdict to be a product of the emotion rather than reflective judgment will not be tolerated.” At the trial, Philadelphia prosecutor Carlos Vega told the jury: “When you think of the death penalty, there are messages to be sent. There is a message on the street saying, ‘Look at that, he got death; you see that, honey, that’s why you live by the rules, so you don’t end up like that.’ ”