New Mexico Trial Judge Finds State Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Ruling in a pre-trial matter in New Mexico, Judge Timothy Garcia of Santa Fe County's First Judicial District Court held the state's death penalty law to be unconstitutional based on a study by the Capital Jury Project.  The Project's research in 14 states had found that jurors often do not follow the law in making their sentencing decision.  In particular, the judge found that the jurors' propensity toward making their sentencing decision during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial was "an arbitrary and capricious violation of the United States Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution."

The judge said that he would allow the death penalty trial to go ahead provided separate juries were selected for the guilt-innocence phase and for the sentencing phase, even though that change was not provided for under New Mexico law.  The state elected to forgo seeking the death penalty entirely, thereby putting off a legal confrontation on this issue.

(New Mexico v. Dominguez and Good, No. D-0101-CR-200400521 and 522, Order, June 8, 2007). 

See DPIC's Report, Blind Justice: Juries Deciding Life and Death With Only Half the Truth (2005).