Originally created 02/13/98

S.C. House bill 021398 - The Augusta Chronicle



One reason the death penalty is hard to come by in this country -- and is therefore attacked as "uneven" by its critics -- is because it takes only one or two capital punishment foes on a 12-member jury to nullify the will of the majority.

This is why it's encouraging to see some movement in the South Carolina Legislature to get rid of the unanimous verdict requirement in death penalty cases.

A bill sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Terry Haskins, R-Greenville, would still require jury unanimity to convict a defendant of a capital murder charge, but after the trial proceeds to the penalty phase, it would take only 10 jurors to vote to impose the death penalty.

Haskins' measure makes good sense. If 12 jurors unanimously convict someone of a heinous murder, then the killer, under South Carolina law, is surely a candidate for lethal punishment.

When 10 or 11 jurors agree a death-penalty verdict is warranted, the chances are very good that the holdouts are ideologically opposed to capital punishment -- and if they had been honest about their view in pre-trial questioning, would have been excluded from the jury.

For the death penalty to prove its value as a deterrent to deadly crimes, it must be employed with a degree of regularity that will strike fear in the hearts of would-be violent criminals.

There is good reason to believe Haskins' proposal would achieve that. And hopefully, as his measure picks up grass-roots support, Georgia lawmakers will hear the message, too. Let's put capital punishment to work in both states.

It's encouraging to see some movement in the South Carolina Legislature to get rid of the unanimous verdict requirement in death penalty cases.