The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a constitutionally legal form of punishment in Georgia that was reinstated in 1973. This form of punishment is hotly contested in the country due to its discriminatory and often arbitrary nature.
How the death penalty works in Georgia
When a person commits a capital felony in Georgia, i.e., a murder with aggravating circumstances, rape or robbery, the case is automatically forwarded to the Superior Court in the county where the crime occurred. If the grand jury indicts the defendant, the prosecutor files a notice of intent to seek the death penalty. The trial proceeds like any other criminal trial, except that if the defendant is convicted of a capital offense, a separate sentencing hearing is conducted before a jury to determine whether or not to sentence the defendant to death or life imprisonment.
The problem with death penalty juries
The first and most horrendous death penalty problem is jury selection. In Georgia, potential jurors are asked whether or not they could vote to impose a death sentence. This means that people who would automatically rule out the death penalty are often not selected to serve on juries in these cases, leading to a jury pool that is more inclined to hand down a death sentence.
Furthermore, Georgia allows non-unanimous jury verdicts in capital cases. This means that if just one juror disagrees with the rest of the jury, the defendant can still be sentenced to death. Studies have shown that non-unanimous verdicts are more likely to result in wrongful convictions, and indeed there have been several cases in Georgia where defendants have been sentenced to death despite the fact that one or more jurors voted for life imprisonment.
Another problem is that defendants are usually underrepresented. Although every citizen has a right to a criminal defense attorney, in reality, most defendants cannot afford to hire their own lawyer and must rely on a public defender. Unfortunately, public defenders in Georgia are often overworked and underpaid, leading to a situation where defendants do not receive the best form of representation.
The death penalty is an issue that divides our country. Some people believe that it is a necessary form of punishment for the worst crimes, while others maintain that it is inherently cruel and unjust. However, regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is important to be aware of the serious problems with how death penalty juries operate in Georgia to know what to expect when fighting for your rights or that of your loved one.