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United States of America v. Ronell Wilson

May 14, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RONELL WILSON,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the court is Defendant Ronell Wilson's motion to strike for cause Juror #927. For the reasons set forth below, Wilson's motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

The court is currently conducting oral voir dire to select a jury that will decide whether Wilson will be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release at an upcoming penalty phase re-trial scheduled to begin on June 24, 2013.

Although he concedes that Juror #927's answers are "on their face qualifying," Wilson argues that this prospective juror is nevertheless substantially impaired because "her feelings are so strong about the murder of law enforcement personnel" such that she could not fairly consider a life sentence. (May 10, 2013, Hr'g Tr. at 1949:11-19.) The Government opposes, contending that while Juror #927 "certainly has the view that the death penalty is more justifiable" if two police officers have been murdered, she repeatedly expressed an ability to consider all forms of evidence and, if she felt it were appropriate, to impose a life sentence. (Id. at 1950:12-1951:21.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A.Life Qualification

"[T]he proper standard for determining when a prospective juror may be excused for cause because of his or her views on capital punishment . . . is whether the juror's views would 'prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.'" Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 728 (1992) (quoting Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424 (1985)).

A defendant may challenge for cause "[a] juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty in every case [because that means he] will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require him to do." Id. at 729. This is often referred to as the requirement that a juror be "life-qualified." United States v. Basciano, No. 05-CR-060 (NGG), 2011 WL 4574925, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2011).

B. Consideration of Mitigation Evidence

To be a qualified juror in a capital case, a person must, among other things, be open to considering relevant mitigation evidence. "[T]he sentencer [may not] refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence. . . . The sentencer . . . may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence[, b]ut [it] may not give it no weight by excluding such evidence from [its] consideration." Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 113-14 (1982) (emphasis in original); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3592(a) ("In determining whether a sentence of death is to be imposed on a defendant, the finder of fact shall consider any mitigating factor . . . ." (emphasis added)); cf. Morgan, 504 U.S. at 729 (stating that a defendant may challenge for cause a "juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty in every case [because he] will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require him to do"). Similarly, a death-eligible defendant is entitled to have the jury "consider[], as a mitigating factor, any aspect of [his] character or record and any circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604 (1978) (emphasis removed).

III. DISCUSSION

Wilson moves to strike Juror #927 for cause. That motion is denied.

The essence of Wilson's argument is that although Juror #927's answers are qualifying, her strong feelings regarding law enforcement nonetheless leave her substantially impaired because although "she's a person who really tries," she would not be "able to overcome" such feelings. (May 10, 2013, Hr'g Tr. at 1950:6-8.) According to Wilson, Juror #927 believes that "police officers are so different from other people ...


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