A pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on capital punishment could affect 14 men on Nevada's death row, an expert on death penalty cases says.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday it would attempt to clear up confusion over its 2002 ruling that juries, not judges, must decide on the death penalty in capital cases.
Michael Pescetta, a federal public defender specializing in death penalty cases, cited the cases of 10 men in Nevada who pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death by three-judge panels and four cases in which there were hung juries and three-judge panels imposed death sentences.
If the U.S. Supreme Court decides that its initial ruling wasn't retroactive, the 14 capital punishment cases in Nevada wouldn't be overturned, Pescetta said.
But if the high court decides the ruling is retroactive, Pescetta said lower court hearings would be required to determine if the condemned men waived their rights to a jury hearing in the penalty phase of their cases.
There are 84 men and one woman on death row in Nevada.
Since the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled on three death penalty cases in which judges ordered executions.
The court ordered a new penalty hearing for Donte Johnson, convicted of the 1998 execution-style slaying of four young men in Las Vegas; and overturned the death sentence of Dorion Daniel, convicted of the fatal shooting of two men and the wounding of two others in a Las Vegas apartment in July 1997.
In both cases, there are still many issues to litigate before the new penalty hearings are scheduled, Pescetta said.
The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the death penalty imposed on Daryl L. Mack for the 1988 killing of a Reno woman. Mack waived his right to a jury trial, was convicted and a three-judge panel imposed the death penalty.
The Nevada court ruled that Mack had waived his right to a jury trial and thus waived his right to a sentencing hearing by the jury.
After the 2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 2003 Legislature changed the law so that juries would decide the death penalty.