Scott Peterson Death Penalty Sentence Overturned

by Chris Haney

An unfair trial claim for Scott Peterson has been denied by the California Supreme Court. Peterson was convicted for murdering his wife and unborn son in 2004.

During the trial’s penalty phase, jurors voted on death for Peterson. On Monday, the court published a unanimous opinion. The trial judge made errors during the jury selection process. Those errors undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury.

Next Steps for the Prosecution of Scott Peterson

Prosecutors have the opportunity to retry the penalty phase if they want to continue to push for a death sentence. According to Peterson’s attorney, his sentence becomes life in prison if prosecutors decide against seeking the death penalty.

The trial judge wrongly left out possible jurors that said they disagreed with the death penalty. The judge should have determined if the jurors could shelve their beliefs and obey the law. This is why the Supreme Court sided with Peterson’s attorney and overturned the death penalty.

However, the court’s seven justices disagreed that the trial judge’s jury selection kept Peterson from receiving an impartial trial during his 2004 murder conviction.

California Supreme Court’s 102-Page Judgment

The California Attorney General’s Office represented the state in Peterson’s appeal. They declined to comment, stating that they would let the court’s 102-page opinion speak for itself.

Peterson’s appellate attorney, Cliff Gardner, emailed a statement:

“We are grateful for the California Supreme Court’s unanimous recognition that if the state wishes to put someone to death, it must proceed to trial only with a fairly selected jury. Prosecutors may not rely on a jury specifically organized by the state to return a verdict of death.”

“And while we are disappointed that such a biased jury selection process results in a reversal of only the death sentence, we look forward to the Court’s review of the new forensic and eyewitness evidence of innocence presented in Mr. Peterson’s separate and still pending state habeas petition.”

“In deciding whether to seek a new death sentence, the question for prosecutors now is whether they can prove Mr. Peterson culpable for this crime to even a single juror seated through a fair jury selection process.”

[H/T The Modesto Bee]