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Scott Peterson Appeals Death Sentence

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on July 06, 2012 10:33 AM

Convicted murderer Scott Peterson is appealing his death sentence, arguing that excessive publicity and errors before, during, and after his trial should get his conviction reversed.

Jurors in 2004 convicted Peterson, now 39, of killing his wife Laci and their unborn son on Christmas Eve 2002. Peterson is currently on death row.

Peterson's 470-page appeal is called an automatic appeal under California law. But it could take months or even years to resolve, The Associated Press reports.

Here's how the process works:

In California, anyone sentenced to death is entitled to an automatic, direct appeal to the California Supreme Court. The court "must find at least one new attorney, but usually two, for the defendant," according to the state Attorney General's office. Scott Peterson's appeal is being handled by post-conviction attorney Cliff Gardner of Berkeley, Calif.

After the death-row appellant's attorney files a brief, which Gardner did Thursday according to the AP, the California Attorney General's office will review it and file a written response that answers the appellant's claims.

The appellant can then file a reply to the Attorney General's brief. Both sides will then get a chance to argue before the California Supreme Court, which then has 90 days to issue a decision.

If the California Supreme Court affirms the death-row inmate's conviction and sentence, the inmate can then try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. The High Court has discretion as to whether to hear the case or not.

In Scott Peterson's appeal, his attorney argues the trial court made errors during jury selection (for example, by improperly excusing potential jurors), during trial (by improperly allowing dog-tracking evidence, among other reasons), and during the penalty phase (by refusing to seat a new, unbiased penalty-phase jury). You can read the entire appeal at a website created by Peterson's family.

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