In the USA, killing a police officer on duty is considered one of nine capital offenses, which are punished either by a death penalty or by life imprisonment without the possibility of release (Bienen, 2010). Mr. James is charged with committing a capital offense in a state where the death penalty is permitted. However, simply committing a capital offense does not automatically mean execution. There are numerous stages in a capital case that need to be upheld before capital punishment is even considered. The judge and jury are expected to have a separate hearing and weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors that occurred in the case, before passing judgment (Bienen, 2010).
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During the process, Mr. James will have to undergo numerous court sessions. The first part of any capital case is the preliminary hearing. It is preceded by the arraignment stage, during which the accused will be brought to the court to hear the charges and make a plea, be it guilty or not guilty (Bienen, 2010). The preliminary hearing determines whether the prosecution has enough evidence to prosecute him for his crime. The grand jury then reviews the case in order to pass a bill of indictment, which allows pushing the case to the court (Bienen, 2010).
Moving on to the guilt phase trial, Mr. James’s case will be reviewed in a local court, with judge and jury present. During this stage, both the prosecution and Mr. James’ defendant will make their cases, and a verdict will be made. Since in this scenario I will not press charges for a death penalty, the separate hearing for the necessity for a death penalty will be avoided.
After the verdict has been issued, Mr. James will be considered guilty, his presumption of innocence thus removed. In order to prove his innocence or provide mitigating circumstances that could somehow reduce the number of years spent in prison, he would need to call for an appeal. There are several possibilities left for Mr. James. He can motion for a new trial, if additional evidence is discovered, or if he is denied that opportunity, to appeal to the State Highest Criminal Court. This court has the power to reverse the judgment made by the lower state courts. Should the situation remain unchanged and the verdict is kept, the only possibility left for Mr. James is to petition to the U.S Supreme Court. In all cases, the accused must prove that a critical error was made in his case, in order for the decision to be reversed (Bienen, 2010).
Once the conviction is made and cannot be reversed, Mr. James’s only options would be to petition to State Trial Court, should there be any issues with the case that were not dealt with appropriately. These issues involve prosecutor misconduct, juror misconduct, or ineffectiveness of the lawyer or counselor provided by the state. The purpose of these petitions is to give the prisoner a possibility to change or revise the sentence based on the infractions committed during the initial sentence. In addition, the convict has the opportunity to demand comparison with other similar cases that happened in the same state. This would allow Mr. James to demand the sentence to be reduced, should it be excessive when compared to similar cases. This is called a Proportionality Review. Should Mr. James’ petitions be denied by the local court, the procedure is similar to that of an appeal, with the petition first traveling to the Highest State Court, and later to U.S Supreme Court (Bienen, 2010).
Federal Court System will largely be uninvolved in Mr. James’ case. The majority of cases reviewed in the federal court deal with the constitutionality of laws, cases involving laws and treaties of the US, cases involving public government officials, disputes between two or more states, admiralty law, bankruptcy, and habeas corpus issues. The only instance when Mr. James can appeal to the Federal Court is due to Habeas Corpus, which is a law that allows reporting unlawful detention or imprisonment before the court. Unless Mr. James was mistreated by the police or prison officials, he would not have a case to report to the federal court. His case, which involves the killing of a police officer, is a matter reviewed strictly by the State Court, and he will be judged under the state laws (Bienen, 2010).
At different parts of the process, Mr. James is protected by different constitutional rights. At the beginning of the process, when the prosecution is collecting evidence for the case, it would require a hearing and permission from a neutral judge in order to obtain a search warrant. Without it, Mr. James could not be searched or relieved of any of his belongings, even though they could potentially link him to the murder of the police officer in question. This right is protected by the 4th Amendment of the Constitution (“U.S constitutional amendments,” n.d.).
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The 5th Amendment protects Mr. James from self-incrimination and double jeopardy, as well as establishes the rules of due process and demands the presence of the grand jury in order for the prosecution to be able to proceed with the case to the court (“U.S constitutional amendments,” n.d.). Without the grand jury’s indictment, the prosecution has no right to accuse Mr. James of killing the police officer.
The 6th Amendment is the centerpiece of the entire judicial system, as it grants the accused a right to fair trial, notification of rights, retaining counsel, and other indispensable rights that have to be respected during the trial (“U.S constitutional amendments,” n.d.). Although the crime that Mr. James is accused of is a capital offense, he cannot be deprived of any of these rights. The Federal court stands guard against the violation of these rights.
The 8th Amendment is important to this case as it protects Mr. James from any sort of cruel and unusual punishment. This means that even if he is found guilty and convicted to a lifetime of imprisonment, his punishment will not include torture, sensory deprivation, and any other kind of punishment beyond incarceration (“U.S constitutional amendments,” n.d.).
The 14th Amendment defines the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, as well as protects a citizen’s basic human rights, even when taken into custody. Basic human rights include the right of protection from slavery and torture, right to a fair trial, the right to live, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and some others. Mr. James, if convicted, will be deprived of some of the rights protected by the 14th Amendment, such as the right to freedom of movement, for example (“U.S constitutional amendments,” n.d.).
Should the prosecution press charges for a death sentence to Mr. James, it would technically violate the supreme basic human right – the right to live. This is one of the main issues with death penalties and the reason why the majority of the world had abandoned it already. It could be a good reason to not press for a death penalty for the capital offense, even though the majority of the law enforcement community may not agree with such a decision.
Bienen, L.B. (2010). Murder and its consequences: Essays on capital punishment in America. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
U.S constitutional amendments. (n.d.). Web.