Supreme Court keeps juries in the dark

By: Brian Chidester

In June, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Louis Jones, the first man sent to the federal death row under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which expanded the number of federal capital crimes from 2 to 60.

In his appeal, Jones argued that judges should be required to tell jurors that defendants will be sentenced to life without parole if jurors don't decide unanimously on the death penalty.

In Jones' case, the judge first told jurors they had to decide on one of three sentences unanimously, then specified only death or life without parole, and then gave jurors four confusing verdict forms. The judge never explained what would happen if the jurors reached a deadlock.

But in the opinion justifying the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that informing jurors of the law might undermine the government's "strong interest in having the jury express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death."

In other words, the Supreme Court is saying that laws to protect defendants in capital cases should not be clarified for juries.

This case clearly shows the government's determination to put more people to death -- and its utter contempt for those parts of otherwise draconian laws that give defendants any rights whatsoever.