The U.S. House bill that would reauthorize the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law includes provisions that would dramatically transform the federal death penalty system, allowing smaller juries to decide on executions and giving prosecutors the ability to try again if a jury deadlocks, the Washington Post reports. The bill triples the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty, adding, the material support law that has been the core of the government’s legal strategy against terrorism.
The death penalty provisions, which were added during a voice vote in July, are emerging as one of the major points of contention between House and Senate negotiators as they begin work on a compromise bill to renew expiring portions of the Patriot Act. If approved, the provisions could have a significant impact on future Justice Department terrorism prosecutions. Senate Democrats say that the proposals are extraneous to the Patriot Act and should not be approved without fuller debate. Death penalty opponents and defense lawyers also contend that the measures, by removing some safeguards, would increase the risk that innocent people could be executed. Critics are most concerned about changes related to juries, including a provision that would allow a trial with fewer than 12 jurors if the court finds “good cause,” with or without the agreement of the defense. The bill would give prosecutors a chance to try again if a jury is deadlocked over a death sentence.