Queens, N.Y., District Attorney Richard Brown is single-handedly reviving the prospects of the death penalty in New York, reports the New York Sun. Brown is urging the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to allow prosecutors across the state to resume seeking death sentences. A 2004 ruling by the court helped to empty out the state’s death row of all but one convict, John Taylor, whose execution Mr. Brown still seeks. For death penalty advocates, Taylor’s appeal is emerging as a last opportunity to convince the courts to reinstate capital punishment in New York.
With the state legislature showing no serious willingness to fix the current death penalty statute in response to the court’s decision, and with no state capital cases on the horizon, the death penalty could disappear as a political issue in New York if the court overturns Taylor’s death sentence. In the 2004 case, the Court of Appeals overturned the death sentence of Stephen LaValle, reasoning that the jury instructions required by law were coercive. Those instructions inform a jury that if it deadlocks on the question of death or life in prison, the judge will impose a sentence. The court ruled that the possibility a judge’s sentence would allow for the possibility of parole could improperly coerce a juror to vote for death to prevent a deadlock. The makeup of the court has dramatically changed since 2004; some court observers say it is possible the court will overturn its precedent.