On the Death Sentence
Similarly, local elections affect decisions of state prosecutors to seek the death penalty and of state judges to impose it. “In states where judges were until recently empowered to override jury sentences,” Garland explains, “elected judges typically used this power to impose death rather than life. In Alabama the death-to-life ratio of these judicial overrides was ten to one.” In Delaware, where judges are not elected, such decisions favored defendants. The “tight connection between legal decision-making and local politics produces…an obvious risk of bias in capital cases.” Popular opinion has less effect on criminal justice in Europe. European judges and prosecutors are typically tenured civil servants. Popular opinion thus has less sway over individual trials. This difference provides a powerful argument for opponents of judicial elections.
By Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, New York Review of Books