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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Special Circumstances (Death Penalty)


The capital sentencing hearing (death penalty) is considered a part of the trial. Capital trials are bifurcated as required by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the accused is found guilty of capital murder, the same jury sits for the sentencing phase. At sentencing, the prosecution must prove that the crime requires the death penalty. The defense may offer mitigating evidence.

The death penalty hearing can be viewed as a trial within a trial. It includes:

  • Examination and cross-examination of witnesses.
  • Opening statements and closing arguments.
  • Judge/jury instructions.
  • Jury deliberation to determine a life-or-death fate.

There is a possibility for findings of reversible error in the capital sentencing hearing, just as in the initial trial.

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Date Created: August 7, 2023