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Jodi Arias Case: What Is a Sentencing Mistrial?

Jodi Arias will be sentenced to life in prison after jurors failed to agree on whether to sentence her to death. A previous jury convicted Arias in 2013 of killing her lover, Travis Alexander.

With jurors deadlocked on sentencing and no indication they could reach a consensus, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial and will now decide if Arias should be eligible for parole after 25 years.

The Case Against Arias

Travis Alexander was killed in June 2008, but Arias' trial did not commence until January 2013 in Maricopa County, Arizona. After a trial sensationalized in the media, a jury convicted Arias of murder in May 2013. After deciding Arias's guilt, Arizona's capital punishment laws tasked the jurors with determining her punishment: execution or life in prison.

Those jurors deliberated for 13 hours but were unable decide. Because death penalty verdicts in Arizona must be unanimous, the presiding judge, Sherry Stephens, declared a sentencing mistrial.

At this point, the prior jury was dismissed, and a new jury was selected. The retrial was limited to evidence on Arias' sentencing, and jurors were not reviewing her guilty verdict. This jury was also deadlocked, and Judge Stephens declared another sentencing mistrial. The second hung jury means Arias will automatically be sentenced to life in prison, and it is now up to Judge Stephens to determine whether she will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

Arizona's Sentencing Scheme

The death penalty is legal in 32 states, and many of those states split their capital cases into a guilt phase and a sentencing phase. In most of these, and at the federal level, a hung jury at the sentencing phase means automatic life in prison. But Arizona's death penalty statute, Section 13-752(K), allows for a sentencing retrial:

At the penalty phase, if the trier of fact is a jury and the jury is unable to reach a verdict, the court shall dismiss the jury and shall impanel a new jury. The new jury shall not retry the issue of the defendant's guilt or the issue regarding any of the aggravating circumstances that the first jury found by unanimous verdict to be proved or not proved. If the new jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the court shall impose a sentence of life or natural life on the defendant.

Only two other states, California and Nevada, allow retrial after a hung jury in the penalty phase. (Although some defendants have challenged the law, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that it does not impose double jeopardy on a defendant, nor is it cruel and unusual punishment.) After a second hung jury, however, an obligatory life sentence is imposed.

Judge Stephens is set to decide whether Jodi Arias is eligible for parole on April 13.

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