Last week’s Supreme Court decision that made it easier for prosecutors to exclude people who express reservations about the death penalty from capital juries will make the panels whiter and more conviction-prone, experts in law and psychology told the New York Times. The jurors who remain after people with moral objections to the death penalty are weeded out, studies show, are significantly more likely to vote to find defendants guilty than jurors as a whole. “It could give judges the authority to exclude about half the population from service in death penalty cases,” said Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan. Support for the death penalty drops from more than 60 percent to about half when life in prison is the alternative. A new survey by the Death Penalty Information Center, which is critical of the death penalty as applied, found that 39 percent of Americans say they have a moral objection to the death penalty that would disqualify them from a capital case.
Prosecutors do not dispute the finding that capital juries are more apt to convict. The Supreme Court has narrowed the availability of the death penalty. “We may have a line of jurisprudence that is at war with itself,” said Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. “You can't simultaneously keep expanding the bounds of death qualification and also manifest a special concern for innocence in capital cases. As a brute matter of statistics, the farther you go in death qualification, the more wrongful convictions you will get.” Prosecutors say that death qualification is a necessary and narrowly tailored requirement that prevents only people who are unable to follow the law from serving as jurors. “We don't have jury ification in this country,” said Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Clatsop County, Or., and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. “If you have jurors who cannot look at the evidence fairly given their moral and philosophical beliefs, the state is not going to receive a fair trial.”