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Supreme Court: The Death Sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal May Stand

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By Kamika Dunlap on January 19, 2010 2:05 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed an appeals court ruling that would have given Mumia Abu-Jamal a chance to dodge the death penalty.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court ruling tossed out a lower court ruling that would have invalidated the death sentence of black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that Abu-Jamal  was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Now, the appeals court must revisit that decision, with an increased likelihood that it will uphold his original death sentence.

As a result, the Supreme Court ruling likely brings Abu-Jamal significantly closer to execution. The Supreme Court made its ruling after a case in Ohio last week which turned on a similar legal issue relating to jury instructions about mitigating factors in capital sentencing decisions.

Abu-Jamal claims there were procedural errors during his capital sentencing, and that too few blacks were on the jury. Also, the appeals court had ruled that Abu-Jamal, 55, deserved a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions.

At issue was whether jurors might have thought that they had to unanimously agree on each piece of mitigating evidence being weighed against the aggravating circumstances justifying a death sentence. But there is no unanimity requirement for jurors considering mitigating circumstances (though there is a unanimity requirement regarding aggravating circumstances).

In general, mitigating evidence is any information or evidence presented to the court regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.

Under the law, a jury must be given the opportunity to consider all mitigating evidence before determining the sentence in an attempt to make the death sentence less arbitrary.

Last year, a Supreme Court ruling denied Abu-Jamal's separate petition for a new trial.

Abu-Jamal has been incarcerated for nearly three decades and an active critic of the criminal justice system.

The appeals court can now reimpose the death sentence or order new trial to hear addition claims of injustice made by Abu-Jamal.

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