Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Kentucky Case on Death Penalty Jury Instructions

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in White v. Woodall, a death penalty case from Kentucky, to be heard during the Court’s next term. Robert Woodall pleaded guilty to capital murder and chose not to testify in the sentencing phase of his trial. His attorneys requested that the judge instruct the jury not to draw any adverse inferences from Woodall’s decision not to testify on his own behalf, but the request was denied because the judge concluded that Woodall’s guilty plea waived his right to be free from self-incrimination. Woodall was sentenced to death. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered a resentencing, holding, “The due process clause requires that a trial court, if requested by the defendant, instruct the jury during the penalty phase of a capital trial that no adverse inference may be drawn from a defendant’s decision not to testify.” Kentucky has challenged that decision and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the matter.

(J. Belczyk, “Supreme Court issues final orders of term,” The Jurist, June 27, 2013.) See Supreme Court; listen to DPIC’s podcast on the Supreme Court and the death penalty.