The DU Criminal Law Review wishes everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!
Procedural rules mandate that the deliberations of a grand jury and related documents should normally be withheld from the general public. It has long been the view that the prosecutor retains discretion to charge or not to charge a defendant based on the grand jury’s decision to indict.
This has recently been challenged in the case of the Jonbenet Ramsey with respect to the then prosecutor’s decision to not pursue charges even though the grand jury voted to indict the victim’s parents. There are a few issues that readily come to mind including: 1) the death of Jonbenet’s mother, Patricia Ramsey, and 2) nearly 18 years passed since the tragic death, leaving much of the evidence difficult to find or non-existent.
Many local and national news media outlets have extensively covered this story recently. One article found on the CNN website discusses the probability and possibility of the prosecution to file new charges, given the inherent issues surrounding the evidence in the case.
Should grand jury deliberations be more or less transparent? Do you think it is proper to publicly release grand jury documents? If so, how do you think this case should be resolved? How much discretion should the prosecution have if a grand jury makes their indictment decision?
We would like to hear your opinions.
The District Attorney (“DA”) in the 2nd Judicial District of Colorado (Denver) decided to seek the death penalty after a gruesome crime scene at a Denver area bar. Dexter Lewis and several accomplices are accused of stabbing five people to death and setting the bar ablaze. Dexter Lewis now faces death row if convicted. Interestingly, the Denver DA has not sought the death penalty in another case since 1999. An article discussing the crime and the DA’s decision to seek the death penalty can be found here.
This case marks the first death penalty case brought in Denver in well over a decade and now joins the Aurora Movie Theater Shooting case for #2 Colorado death penalty case of the year. Do these cases suggest that it is somewhat unusual to adjudicate a death penalty case locally, or do we preserve the death penalty for the worst cases that come along every once in a while?
What is going on in Denver?
So why have there been so few death penalty cases in Denver? Some question whether a jury will go for the death penalty in Denver. Perhaps that is part of the reason why death penalty cases are far and few between. Of course, some jurisdictions in Colorado seek the death penalty more often than Denver. Surely, demographics play some part in these decisions. Not only the jury makes the decisions; the prosecution has a difficult determination to make. In a typical death penalty case, the prosecutor would weigh aggravating factors against mitigating factors in determining whether to pursue the death penalty. Anyone interested can review the statutory aggravating and mitigating factors by reviewing C.R.S. 18-1.3-1201 (2012).
Here is a quick look at some death penalty statistics for Colorado:
According to the folks at www.deathpenltyinfo.org, Colorado is home to a total of four death row inmates, including Nathan Dunlap. Governor John Hickenlooper granted Mr. Dunlap temporary stay for execution proceedings originally scheduled for the end of this month. Before this case, Gary White was the last individual to be executed in Colorado in 1997. The last time a Denver jury sentenced a person to death was in 1986. Lately, Colorado has gone years without seeking the death penalty and other years with no more than one or two death penalty cases.
Many factors Could Be at Play
Is it possible that the death penalty light is flickering out? Is the status quo just fine? Perhaps prosecutors cannot justify many cases to be punishable by death sentence because of the aggravating/mitigating factors. Maybe juries are less likely to sentence a person to death so prosecutors do not ask for it often? Maybe death penalty cases are too expensive and complex to adjudicate?
Let us know what you think: