Legal Question

So this woman poisons her husband for insurance money and during the penalty phase, the DA brings up the fact that “There is strong evidence that she murdered her infant for lawsuit money by pushing a pacifier down his throat”

Sure enough: death penalty.

What the…? Now look, I’m all for justice and would also had voted for the death penalty had the DA been allowed to get away with that, but how the hell is that legal? She was never convicted of murdering her child. That’s insanely prejudicial.

Can’t on appeal, (or at trial) the defense successfully point out that 5% of other similar cases wind up with the death penalty, and 80% of child murder cases* get the death penalty. And that this ‘strong evidence statement’ shouldn’t be allowed?

*stats may be pulled out of my ass.

I don’t think the statistics matter, if that’s your question. If the jurisdiction allows argument about “strong evidence of other crimes” to be put before the jury during the penalty phase, than it’s probably okay, even if it dramatically increases the chances of the death penalty. If such an argument is improper (which seems possible, since the allegation was never proven), than I’m quite sure the trial court or appellate court would reverse and remand for new sentencing without the prejudicial comments. No one would need statistics to conclude such an allegation was incredibly prejudicial.

[sometimes the prosecutor would be precluded from getting another chance if the first sentence was thrown out for proprietorial misconduct.]

I can’t find the exact appeal document. There’s a pdf that ends in a dead link, but the name of the exact incident is “Angelina Rodriguez antifreeze murder case”.

I did see that her appeal was denied by the California Supreme Court. It appears she did indeed appeal on the exact grounds I mentioned. All I could find was a judge saying, “There is ample evidence that she did murder her child”

I’m really on the fence about this. On the one hand, it IS a fact that there is ample evidence that she murdered her child. It’s not a lie.

On the other allowing that kind of thing sure seems to have a lot of room for abuse.

My non-legal opinion is that there’s no way that should be allowed at all. It would seem to shit all over the basic principle that innocence is presumed in the absence of a trial ending in a guilty verdict.

But taking this particular incident in isolation, if you are going to have a death penalty, I can’t imagine what else you’d apply it to, if not the murder of a spouse for financial gain.

Here’s a story about Paula Sims who was convicted of murdering her infant daughter after claiming the girl had been taken from their home by a masked gunman.

Three years earlier another infant daughter was found dead after the woman claimed that girl had been taken from their home by a masked gunman. Sims hadn’t been charged in that death.

Fair or foul to mention it during the penalty phase?

Penalty phase in general is an idea on shaky ground.

Do we as a society want the punishment to fit the crime, or fit the criminal? Say somebody commits armed robbery and is tried, convicted, and serves the typical time for it. They then commit a nearly identical armed robbery again and are convicted again. Should the punishment be the same, since the crime is, or should we treat the 2-time criminal different from the 1-time criminal?

If you believe punishment should fit the crime, then prior bad acts have no place in sentencing proceedings. If you believe punishment should fit the criminal, then prior bad acts, and prior acts of charity and kindness, and any history of childhood broken home or abuse or whatever, all have a place in the penalty phase. Unproven allegations, like any other element of fake or hearsay testimony have no place.

According to the OP ,this was during the penalty phase- which means the trial had already ended in a guilty verdict. And lots of things get considered in sentencing ( on both sides of the aisle) that aren’t considered in the guilt phase and as far as I can tell, those aggravating and mitigating circumstances don’t need to meet the same standard of proof as is needed for the conviction. Not that there’s no standard, but it seems to be something closer to “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
( On preview) I think we as a society have decided that punishment should fit the criminal rather than the only the crime. ( I do think we as a society believe that the crime should play some part- no one thinks that shoplifting should result in the same sentence as a kidnapping even for the identical criminal) I don’t think any states have a “typical” sentence for a specific crime. Certainly , mine doesn’t - each class of felony or misdemeanor has a range of sentencing options.

Depends on how you look at it. It is true that the statutes will specify a range of sentencing options for most offenses. However, in my “home” court district, where I know the judges and prosecutors reasonably well, I can, with a reasonable degree of certainty, predict what type of plea will be offered for some crimes–and that no acceptable plea is likely to be offered for others. Likewise, I have a pretty good idea what type of sentence is likely to be handed down if the case is tried and defendant is convicted. If I have a case outside of my home district, I can get similar information from attorneys that regularly practice over there.

I’m sure you can predict what sort of plea will be offered and what sentence will be imposed after conviction - but I would be surprised if that prediction doesn’t take into account factors other than the crime itself such as the defendant’s prior criminal record.