Thursday, March 20, 2008

People v. Gay (Cal. Supreme Ct. - March 20, 2008)

When the California Supreme Court unanimously reverses a death sentence -- and, these days, that's an exceptional rarity -- you can be pretty sure that it's reached the correct result. As, indeed, is the case here.

I might add, however, that it may be a bit easier than for the Court to reverse the death sentence here -- as contrasted to a typical case -- because the defendant has been sentenced to death twice, before two different juries. Yes, that sentence has now twice been reversed. But the fact that multiple juries have come out the same way, as well as the fact that the offense here involves the cold-blooded killing of a police officer, tends to suggest that the third time won't be a charm for the defendant either: that, in the end, he'll likely be sentenced to death yet again.

Sure, they'll be delay. And, yes, I think the Court's right that the error here isn't harmless, and that there's a chance that Gay will only be sentenced to life at Penalty Phase No. 3.

Nonetheless, the fact that the ultimate outcome may well be the same -- especially when combined with what I perceive to be the belief by at last some members of the Court that Gay might not have been the actual shooter -- may have helped the reversal here to become unanimous. In some ways, or at least for some people, it may be easier to reverse a death sentence when you have a fair sense that the next jury is likely to reimpose this sentence anyway. And that feeling may be a little bit in play here.