Uttecht v. Brown

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In Uttecht v. Brown, 127 S. Ct. 2218 (2007), Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court in reinstating the death penalty against a defendant despite the dismissal of jurors during voir dire who expressed opposition to capital punishment.

The Court restated the standard for voir dire in death penalty cases:

First, a criminal defendant has the right to an impartial jury drawn from a venire that has not been tilted in favor of capital punishment by selective prosecutorial challenges for cause. Witherspoon, 391 U.S., at 521, 88 S. Ct. 1770, 20 L. Ed. 2d 776.
Second, the State has a strong interest in having jurors who are able to apply capital punishment within the framework state law prescribes. Witt, 469 U.S., at 416, 105 S. Ct. 844, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841.
Third, to balance these interests, a juror who is substantially impaired in his or her ability to impose the death penalty under the state-law framework can be excused for cause; but if the juror is not substantially impaired, removal for cause is impermissible. Id., at 424, 105 S. Ct. 844, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841.
Fourth, in determining whether the removal of a potential juror would vindicate the State's interest without violating the defendant's right, the trial court makes a judgment based in part on the demeanor of the juror, a judgment owed deference by reviewing courts. Id., at 424-434, 105 S. Ct. 844, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841.

The Court continued:

Deference to the trial court is appropriate because it is in a position to assess the demeanor of the venire, and of the individuals who compose it, a factor of critical importance in assessing the attitude and qualifications of potential jurors. Id., at 428, 105 S. Ct. 844, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841; Darden, supra, at 178, 106 S. Ct. 2464, 91 L. Ed. 2d 144 . Leading treatises in the area make much of nonverbal communication. See, e.g., V. Starr & M. McCormick, Jury Selection 389-523 (3d ed. 2001); J. Frederick, Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection 39-56 (2d ed. 2005).

Justice Kennedy also noted:

The requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214, of course, provide additional, and binding, directions to accord deference. The provisions of that statute create an independent, high standard to be met before a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to set aside state-court rulings. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1)-(2); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 146 L. Ed. 2d 389 (2000).